I love adaptations because, in the right hands, they’ll take an established source and expand on them into a new direction. They’re not rebranding of the material, but rather a wholly new look at a world we treasured and loved. Some film adaptations are able to capture what made the original so popular; most others bastardize the vision.
Of course, not every film adaptation has the luxury of having the original material’s creator take the reins. With Steven Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as both the writer and director, the film not only complements the book well, but creates a universe that can stand alone, possibly overshadowing the book itself.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Director: Steven Chbosky
Release Date: September 21, 2012 (Limited)
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a shy, introverted kid about to start his Freshman year of high school. Realizing the necessity of breaking out of his shell, he begins talking to a Senior in one of his classes, Patrick (Ezra Miller). Through Patrick, Charlie is introduced to a new way of life, including his first real crush/love, Sam (Emma Watson). Together, the three of them traverse the confusing and exhilarating experience of their year together.
However, much like any good coming-of-age film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has just the right mix of subtle comedic and dramatic scenes. For those unfamiliar with it, the book is told in an epistolary style, which comes in the form of a series of letters throughout Charlie’s year. While the book uses this device to progress the plot forward, the film only uses the letter ploy to introduce the film and systematically advance the story much like a jump cut. For those worried how the film’s plot would play out with/without the form of the letters: it works, and it works well… perhaps too well.
I admit, I hadn’t read the book before first seeing the trailer. However, it hooked me enough to read the book (which I blazed through quickly). Because of this, I always subconsciously pictured Logan, Emma, and Ezra as their characters. However, each actor perfectly fit the character they’re portraying. While I wouldn’t necessarily say this would be a “break-out” performance, Watson stands out the most amongst her peers. That’s not to say that her co-stars are terrible; rather, she just shines and basically steals every scene she’s in (as if she wasn’t already going to be under a microscope post-Harry Potter). Sure, her American accent is hard to swallow, but it progressively gets better.
The chemistry between the main three actors, with the addition of Arrested Development‘s Mae Whitman as Mary-Elizabeth, Charlie’s first girlfriend, is so tight and superb it’s as if they had been friends for years. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age/high school films, so I’m more than a little biased to what the film has to offer. However, I feel that the film truly epitomizes all of the ups and downs we all had during high school, from the rush of making new friends to the confusion and excitement over your first love to the helplessness when you feel like you’ve lost it all… I may be waxing sentimentality here, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower has it all.
But more importantly, and a point that I can’t stress enough, I honestly feel that the film adaptation is better than the book. Because of Chbosky’s direct control over the film, it completely overshadows the source material. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s leaps and bounds better, but you wouldn’t have trouble watching the film before reading the book. Of course, edits and cuts were made to craft a better cinematic flow, with some scenes cut in the film being some of the more important scenes in the book, but Chbosky picked and chose the right scenes to keep intact to help balance the emotional impact of said situations. Because of this, and the unnecessary need to rely on the epistolary gimmick, The Perks of Being a Wallflower runs with more freedom than its literary predecessor.
Of course, aiding the film is the inclusion of music. Music plays an important role in the book, so it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is amazing. The film’s score is very subtle and used sparingly, mostly for the highly emotional scenes. There are a few particular flashback scenes where the score begins to play hauntingly softly. It just fit so well. The film’s soundtrack showcases much of the same bands and songs constantly referenced by Charlie, which is a nice and authentic touch for fans of the book.
The Perks of Being Wallflower very well might be the best film adaptation I’ve seen. More importantly, it stands on its own in regards to “cinema.” It might not blow you away, and it may not win any awards, but it captures and encapsulates not only the what made the book so special, but all of the nostalgia that comes from high school experiences. Go see this film to see how a proper film adaptation should be done.