Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book to Film: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out in 1999, a thin little book that was released straight to paperback, and one with a very unassuming cover at that.  It didn't have a lot of fancy publicity, and it wasn't a smash hit like Harry Potter or Twilight.  It was a quiet book, but there was something about it that made people want to pass it on.   Librarians handed it around to each other.  Friends recommended it to friends.   It built a following, then people started talking about it as an underground classic. It's now quite easy to find quotes from the book all over the internet (frankly, they sound kind of trite  out of context).  And finally, it's become a movie.  I read the book about seven years ago, and saw the movie with my daughter last weekend.  We both loved it.  It's a great adaptation, but then again, it should be--it had Stephen Chbosky himself as screenwriter and director.

Perks was a book that really spoke to me.  First of all, it's set in the early 90s, and refers to things like making mixed tapes for your friends.  That made me all nostalgic--I had a friend who used to make the best mixed tapes for me around that time.  But it also resonated because of  how closely I could identify with Charlie, the book's main character.  He felt like me when I was a young adult.  Charlie is damaged by things he can't talk about.  He's introverted, socially awkward, clueless about setting boundaries or expressing himself (except in writing).  He reads a lot and thinks a lot, and watches people, but he's not easily noticed. He's a loner who wants to be more connected but can't seem to do it naturally.  But here's the thing--when I was growing up and going through all of that, I didn't really like myself a lot.  But Chbosky makes us just love Charlie.  I mean, just adore him.  That made the book for me right there.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about Charlie's first year in high school.  This awkward kid manages to make a few friends, Sam and Patrick, who are seniors, much older than Charlie and seemingly much freer as well.  They have a group of buddies, dramatize The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the movies every week,  go to parties where the brownies taste a little strange, and listen to lots of music.  The story is about the ins and outs of their friendship.  Charlie's friends have their own issues, and the friendships aren't straightforward, but they are very believable.  I think Chbosky has captured both how warm and enlivening it feels to belong to a community of friends, and also how left behind you can feel when a friendship falters.

I was a bit worried about the casting before I saw the film--the characters felt real to me in my head, and I didn't want to sit there thinking "Oh look, there's Hermione Granger pretending to be Sam, and Percy Jackson's taking a break from being a demigod to be Charlie."  I kind of wanted people I had never seen before playing the roles.  But Logan Lerman absolutely disappeared into Charlie, and Ezra Miller, who was a new face for me, blew me away as Patrick.  Emma Watson was obviously the big name in this film, and although she is much more of a refined, classic beauty than I imagine Sam being, she brought a lot of warmth to the role.

Even though it's a relatively short book, Chbosky streamlines the story quite a bit for the movie.  I didn't feel it lost anything, though.  The big shock at the end of the book is much more foreshadowed in the film, but I already knew the plot, so I can't really judge what that would do for someone coming to the story fresh.  One difference I did notice;  although in the book I definitely felt that I was reading about a certain time period, the movie seemed to blur that a bit.

Here's the movie trailer:

And here's an interview with Stephen Chbosky and Emma Watson:


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