Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Logan Lerman stars in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” currently in theaters. The movie also features performances by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller.
The book version of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is nothing if not divisive-teenagers have been singing praises of Stephen Chbosky’s coming-of-age novel since its publication in 1999 while the book’s controversial content has led many adults to challenge and ban it in schools across the country. Remarkably, Chbosky seems to close that divide with his theatrical version of “Perks” by crafting a film that captures all the joy and heartbreak of his novel while still being relatable for a wide audience.
The film, which was written and directed by the author himself, follows a lovably awkward boy named Charlie (Logan Lerman, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) as he navigates his freshman year of high school. Charlie enters freshman year as a lonely wallflower coping with his best friend’s suicide, but he soon becomes absorbed into a rambunctious band of misfit seniors who introduce him to the high-school social scene. Included among Charlie’s new friends are Patrick (Ezra Miller, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Sam (Emma Watson of “Harry Potter” fame), two stepsiblings who enthusiastically take Charlie under their wings.
Lerman, albeit a bit old to be playing a 14-year-old, does an impressive job portraying such a complex character. Charlie is at once relatable and pitiful, strong and fragile, wise beyond his years and socially clueless. While Lerman keeps the story grounded, Ezra Miller truly lights up the screen as Patrick, turning what could have been a one-note character into a scene-stealer. Patrick is gay and rather flamboyant, but somehow, it doesn’t seem right to call him flamboyantly gay. Miller’s Patrick is hilarious and not at all afraid to be himself, but he’s also disarmingly sensitive, especially when it comes to his secret relationship with a closeted classmate.
In her role as Charlie’s friend and crush, Sam, Emma Watson is good but not great. One thing’s for sure: nobody will be mistaking her for Hermione in this movie. She puts on a decent American accent, rocks her new pixie cut and plays a character with a not-so-great reputation (and not-so-great SAT scores). Watson certainly lends depth to the character, but compared to Charlie and Patrick, Sam seems more distant and less real.
Of course, Chbosky deserves plenty of credit for the film’s fantastic emotional depth. (After all, this isn’t Chbosky’s first time screenwriting-he also wrote the screenplay for the film version of “Rent” back in 2005.) Like the novel, much of the movie is narrated through a series of letters written by Charlie to an unknown recipient. These letters, combined with lots of strategically placed flashbacks, give the audience plenty of insight into Charlie’s emotional development and difficult past, especially his complex relationship with his late aunt, Helen. In general, the movie captures the tone of the book incredibly well. Chbosky thoroughly explores the ups and downs of being a teenager, addressing topics like relationships, drugs, abuse and depression in a way that is honest and realistic, not preachy or cheesy.
Devoted fans of Chbosky’s book will also be happy to know that very few major parts of the novel have been changed or left out. However, it does seem like the novel’s somewhat risqué content may have been toned down a bit in its translation from book to screen. It’s not clear whether those subtle changes were the product of MPAA pressure or a conscious choice by Chbosky himself, but either way, the adjustments don’t take away from the story at all. If anything, they make it easier for all the raw emotion to shine through.
What Chbosky has done with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” really is remarkable. He transformed a somewhat disjointed epistolary novel into a nearly seamless film that draws viewers directly into the story. He threw together a cast that, for the most part, does an excellent job of portraying very complex characters. He even succeeded in capturing the grittiness of adolescence (and the grittiness of the ’90s) in a way that (hopefully) won’t lead to any boycotts from sensitive parents. It’s easy to dismiss both the book and the film as pretentious or overly sentimental, but at its core, “Perks” is a moving coming-of-age story that will make you laugh, make you cry and leave you feeling-to quote Charlie-infinite.