The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
About as good a transfer as a groupie could ask for.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about an introverted, endearing kid named Charlie on his first day of high school. Devoid of friends and out of place, he’s eventually taken under the wing of two seniors who introduce him to their “island of misfit toys.” As the year goes on, he comes to belong and begins to find himself while navigating new emotions and dealing with his own repressed demons along the way. Then love and college get thrown into the mix, and things don’t get any simpler.
Before we go any further, allow me to make this perfectly crystal: if you haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you should really read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I read a lot, and of all the coming-of-age novels I’ve perused in my day, The Catcher in the Rye is probably the only other one that bore as much of an impact on me as this did. It’s just rare to find a book that so accurately and honestly captures the complexities of growing up, complexities that still resonate with us even as we grow up and forget about them. Plus, it’s a super quick read at only 250-something pages. Points being: A) You’re out of excuses; and, B) Expectations were high.
However, as much as I adore the book, I never really imagined it as a movie. Given that it’s one of those books where teens drink brandy, eat magic brownies, swear, and have sex like teens do (shocking, I know), it’s also a book that’s been banned quite a bit by uptight school boards and the like. And not surprisingly, those are some of the very aspects that make the book so special: the ones that parents try to fool themselves into believing aren’t happening while their kids are out there doing them. Except for me, mom. I was an angel.
And more than anything, that’s why it’s so surprising to me that this movie ever got green lit. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has a very loyal following, a good deal of which are likely 16-years-old and under. But I always thought that if a movie were to do it justice, it would have to be rated R, thus cutting out a large chunk of the target audience. I’m no Hollywood fat cat, but that’s no bueno as far as turning a profit is concerned.
Or so I thought.
While I do wish more movies (including this one) would let kids swear like they did in the glory days of Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club, it was a big relief to see how true this PG-13 adaptation stayed to the source material without sugarcoating things along the way. Everything I mentioned up there totally happens in the movie, it just doesn’t make such a big deal out of it, which is how it should be anyway. So my biggest fear was put to rest, but after all, when the writer/director is the same guy who wrote the novel, you’re certainly off to a good start.
The fact that Stephen Chbosky was given so much responsibility and creative control over this movie – despite what little experience in the industry he had – really shows a lot of respect for both the source material and entrusting it to someone who’d know how to approach it. And though a more experienced writer could have put together a first Act that didn’t feel so forced at times, and a more experienced director could have slowed down the pacing a bit so that it didn’t feel so rushed at times, it’s hard to imagine anyone else but Chbosky behind the wheel. Faults and all, this is his baby, one that he cares about just as much as his fans.
And as a result, the important stuff – the heart – is all there: the soundtrack to Charlie’s life, the sage insights that everyone deserves to hear at some point in their lives, the amazing/awkward/heartwarming/confusing/hilarious/tragic moments that drove each chapter of the novel and made me empathize with Charlie in ways I never had with a character. Some of the dialogue doesn’t roll off the tongue as well is does on paper, but that small complaint aside, this is very much the Perks I know and love revisiting. Granted, there are some liberties taken along the way, mainly in terms of certain things that Charlie does or doesn’t go through with. This can usually go either way, but it absolutely worked this time. It felt more like Chbosky giving Charlie a Mulligan rather than Chbosky telling a different story altogether. As a fan of Charlie, and as a fan of Mulligans, I very much dug that about this script.
But the double-edged sword of loving a book this much is that it’s hard to imagine the characters as anyone other than the ones you’ve already envisioned. For example: Ezra Miller. If you’ve seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, chances are you will always see Ezra Miller as that nail-biting teenage sociopath who made Tilda Swinton’s life a living hell from infancy onwward. Here, he plays Patrick: Charlie’s gay friend with a lust for life who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter at the Rocky Horror screening every Saturday night. Now, I always imagined someone grungier than Emma Watson as Sam, and Logan Lerman struck me as a bit too old and kempt to play Charlie, but hey, at least they weren’t the seed of Charlie Manson.
Oh yes, I was skeptical. But lo and behold, Ezra Miller turns out to be the best addition to the cast, and within minutes made me forget all about his archery days. Quite the successful transition, and one that I think a lot of seasoned actors tend to have trouble with. Watson is also quite good as Sam, and though the transformation doesn’t occur as organically as it does for Miller, Lerman does do a swell job of bringing Charlie to life. There’s also a bunch of other familiar faces in here, too many to run down without sounding like roll call, although there is one that’s absolutely worth mentioning.
Folks, it is so-effing-good to see Paul Rudd playing someone other than Paul Rudd for maybe the first time in his career.
The upside is that he tones things down and downplays his performance as Charlie’s English teacher, Mr. Anderson, and he ends up being a really good fit in turn. It’s not a career-changer by any means, it’s just incredibly refreshing for a dude who could not be more comfortably typecast. But one of the biggest downsides of the whole damn movie is that there isn’t enough of him to go around. Now, I’m not gonna throw a fit over the best scenes in the book that were left out of the movie, because a lot of them are actually here, but I will say I’m disappointed that one in particular is missing. The relationship between Charlie and his teacher is, to me, one of the most moving and poignant relationships that Charlie builds throughout the novel. Not to say that their relationship isn’t important here, but it could have been more, and it could have led to my favorite scene from the entire book.
Not a dealbreaker, just disappointing, I guess. Can’t win ’em all, kids.
Anyhow, I’d be really interested to see how the uninitiated take to this movie, because as you might have picked up, I had quite the bias going in. But as a proud member of the club, I was awfully satisfied with the tall order that Perks filled. Sure, it still pales in comparison to the novel, plus it takes a good half-hour to catch its stride and start feeling familiar, but when there’s such a clear respect for the source material as there is with this, it really makes all the difference. And at the end of the day, it’s just great to see this important, timeless story get a fair shake. Hopefully it will compel a whole new generation of non-readers to pick up the book and keep the cycle going, but even if it doesn’t, it’s a story worth hearing regardless of medium. Us wallflowers ain’t alone.
And more movies really need to make better use of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” That Wallflowers cover ain’t got a damn thing on the original.