All great adaptations capture the essence of the original material and negotiate their own space in cultural history. Writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower does so and more, as his latest film is fluidly referential to not only the novel it derives from but other pivotal film and literature breakouts that young adults classify as highly influential. His conception of the teenage years is an expansive, layered world full of convincing, familiar characters set against the backdrop of the (often counter) culture these teen characters hold dear, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Graduate and The Smiths. This shouldn’t be too surprising for fans of the book, as it too contained many of the same references, but it is still impressive to see it taken to another level in film format.
Set in the 90′s, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an introverted boy about to embark on his high school years. With a penchant for writing and in the hopes of easing his nerves about the big change, Charlie begins to write confessional letters to an anonymous friend; most likely himself as it is a diary of sorts. While we are not immediately told what his problems are, Charlie is blatantly troubled by something from his past. Fearing he will become the cast out in his new school after a first day with only the English teacher as a friend, he introduces himself to senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), nicknamed ‘nothing’ by his classmates and teacher, who is likewise a misfit. Patrick and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) introduce Charlie into their peripheral gang and the real beginning of his adolescence.
Lerman’s Charlie is acutely familiar in that if you are not a ‘wallflower’, you will have been friends or have known someone just as pensive and sensitive, with a flair for dramatics, as him. The other exceptional portrayal is Miller’s Patrick, who draws the gang together though he firstly seems to be the loose cannon of the group. Emma Watson’s role as Sam should help separate her from the Harry Potter legacy and allow her to expand her range of work as this film proves she is well able to. As a trio they reinvigorate the existential anxiety and irreverence towards social norms expressed by the characters in the novel.
Overall The Perks of Being a Wallflower vents the frustrations and desires of living in the middle. For Charlie and his friends it is a time between childhood and adulthood spent in a typical suburban community, which by definition straddles the urban and further reaches of society, helping each other endure those high school years when everyone around them seems to be both ignoring and judging them. Chbosky’s modern classic rings just as true and faithful to those teen experiences on the screen due to an excellent young cast and Chbosky’s screenplay. It is a screenplay that is both elegiac (‘People accept the love they think they deserve’) and zanily humorous (Patrick tells Charlie to call his future novel ‘the slut and the falcon, make us solve crimes!’). Lerman’s world is so well rounded you feel you have the power to become actively involved in it; to imagine an extended soundtrack (Violent Femmes-Good Feeling, Dinosaur Jr.-Feel the Pain for instance?), books Charlie would like and lines the characters would say. It never wanders into the realms of an after-school special but does delve into the big taboos such as homosexuality, drug use, suicide and violence. It is in the powerhouse department of teen movies. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.