Expectations were…well…it’s better to say hopes instead of expectations to be perfectly accurate. Hopes for this movie adaptation were high because I have read this novel twice in the last few months.
It’s as unusual for me to read a novel twice as to see a film twice in the theaters (last time I did that was The Secret in Their Eyes). In this case, it was an unusual circumstance that led me to read it twice, but nonetheless I knew the book fairly well going into the screening.
I’ve always maintained that books and movies are separate stories that should be judged individually and on their own merits, but it is hard to totally perfect the separation, especially when the time between reading a print text and “reading” a film text is so slight.
I like them both, though they are quite different in tone. The book is more intellectual, and the movie is a little sweeter. Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel, adapted it into the screenplay, and directed the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The novel is structured around letters that the protagonist, an awkward but brilliant boy beginning high school, writes to an unknown recipient. Charlie has endured trauma, and the letters document his first year of high school with its attendant ups and downs as he struggles to find his place.
Logan Lerman brings a sensibility to Charlie that – I believe – makes the boy more believable than the character seems in the novel. All of the performances are strong, but standouts are Lerman, Ezra Miller as Patrick, Emma Watson as Sam, and Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth.
There is little point in discussing the plot. This is a coming of age story. It is familiar to all of us either because parts of it reflect our own experiences or the experiences of our friends.
This should not be read as a criticism, however. When such stories are told well, they resonate with us no matter what our age, and this story is told well both in written form and in visual form.
A note about the visuals – I love the way this film looks because it is so fitting to the story. The production design is real enough to feel authentic but not overdone with “look at me” nods to period. The cinematography is a little grainy and a little soft, just like a memory. The shallow depth of field emphasizes the characters and their feelings instead of the period props and settings.
That look matches the context of youth when fitting in seems the most important goal to teenagers, and feelings have an intensity that has yet to be tempered by time and experience.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower looks like nostalgia but feels like survival.