Upon hearing that Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was to be turned into a film, I was at once excited and apprehensive: the themes of the epistolary novel are highly sensitive and personal in terms of their scope, meaning that a film could run the risk of either sensationalising depression and suicide, or offending a large audience.
When I heard the cast included the very English Emma Watson, my fears grew: could she truly pull off ‘Sam’ as well as I’d imagined her when reading the novel some six years before?
Thankfully my worries on both counts were unnecessary, as Chbosky‘s movie adaptation is a masterpiece in Indie off-beat film-making. This has to be in large part due to the fact that the author of the novel not only wrote the screenplay, but also directed this Sundance-accredited film. The trailer had been ambiguous, pitching the film towards a wider audience than those who had read or even heard of the book, and made me totally sure that the young audience in the seats around me had no idea what was to come.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a teenager with a deeply troubled mind, who finds it impossible to connect with people around him, due largely to his past mental health issues surrounding the suicide of his best friend. A year after he ‘got really bad’, Charlie manages to fall in with a group of social misfits at his school, and life becomes a whole lot better, thanks to Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick, or ‘Nothing’ (played by Ezra Miller).
The beauty of Chboksy‘s story is its total believability: Charlie does not undergo a miraculous transformation or awakening – he simply finds a group of people happy to be watched by his shy, silent gaze. Charlie will always be a Wallflower, but with his new Rocky Horror –obsessed band of misfit friends, he manages to make the leap from loner to socially-awkward participant. Through a journey of beautiful vignettes, we see Charlie’s integration into the group. The tunnel scene, and the Rocky Horror cabaret shows are particularly well-aimed set pieces, and Chbosky’s direction really maintains the awkward beauty of the original novel.
Emma Watson proves that she’s not just a British know-it-all by playing the care-free Sam with integrity and intense emotion: she and Charlie’s character share a dark secret, which only comes to light at the end of the movie, but this constant hinting throughout makes for a wonderful connection between the two characters, made tangible by Watson and Lerman’s stand-out performances. Miller also excels as Patrick, the failing Senior student who protects himself through his self-deprecating jokes and camping it up during school hours, whilst indulging in his true emotions and longings away from prying eyes. His story is particularly accessible for audiences used to seeing homosexuality outcast during the teenage years, but the early 90s setting makes his plight ever more poignant.
Other excellent cameos come from unlikely sources: my personal comic favourite Paul Rudd here plays Mr Anderson, Charlie’s English teacher, who takes a special and sincere interest in Charlie’s abilities. Rudd surprises in a serious role, and proves his ability as more than just a comedian as his role demands sensitivity and the delivery of some very insightful lines: ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’. Joan Cusack is also a nice surprise as Charlie’s doctor, with other great supporting turns from Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s sister, and Mae Whitman as Charlie’s one-time girlfriend.
What is fantastic about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the abundance of subplots and character circles, making an entirely rounded and full picture of Charlie’s life and entire existence in Pittsburgh. The problems of his family and friends are addressed with the same sensitivity and understanding as Charlie’s own, making the audience aware of the vast array of problems facing popular and introvert teenagers alike. The soundtrack to the film is excellent; with characters bonding over The Smiths, New Order and Sonic Youth, and Chbosky manages not to make this uber-Indie musical catalogue sound too contrived or ‘current’.
A true cinematic tribute to the novel, without a hint of Hollywood glamour or ignorance, this is a movie set to change the way cinema addresses real adolescent issues for years to come.