This week’s installment of Movie Mondays: Book to Screen Adaptations is about one of my personal favorites, The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
This adaptation ranks among one of the greatest ever made in my humble opinion. When the book was first released in 1999, it was met with a generally positive response due to the themes of the book that resonated with every person’s high school experience to some degree. However, since the book tackles dark themes like molestation and childhood sexual abuse, rape, domestic abuse, drug use, homosexuality and homophobia, violence, alcohol consumption by minors, sexually explicit scenes, and frequent use of what some deem as offensive language, many critics of the book thought it should be banned because it was considered too controversial for young readers. The author frequently stated that he didn’t write it to be controversial. He wrote the book to reflect the very real experiences that teenagers go through during their high school career and he wanted the book to be an honest portrayal of the life of a teenager in the early ’90s, the time period in which the book is set. Despite the negative backlash, the book has remained a fixture among the most read books in the Young Adult fiction genre. It has drawn comparisons to J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye,” but I personally believe this book is a much more realistic, honest, and human view of teenage life. The main character is a much more likable protagonist, and his naiveté and innocence make his story a much more compelling read. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of Catcher In The Rye, and have never seen it as the genius work of literature so many people believe it to be. I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but I found myself unable to connect with Holden Caulfield on any level, and just don’t care for the book overall. Moving on…
The book’s main character, Charlie Kelmeckis, suffers from mental illness stemming from childhood trauma surrounding the death of his favorite Aunt (Aunt Helen). His only friend, Michael, had just committed suicide the year before, leaving Charlie feeling alone and wishing that he had a friend. The book is written in the form of letters from Charlie to an unknown recipient who is never revealed, only ever described as someone who was nice and wouldn’t judge him or think he was weird because he had spent time in a mental hospital. Charlie begins each letter with “Dear friend” and explains to this person that he is unpopular and doesn’t have any friends, and he hopes that he can make some by trying to be more outgoing despite his introverted nature and overall shy demeanor.
As Charlie begins high school, he finds himself feeling alone but is determined not to let his shyness get in the way of trying to make friends. Charlie’s passion for reading and talent for writing catches the attention of his English teacher, Mr. Anderson, who begins to give Charlie extra books to read outside of class and decides to try and mentor him and encourages his writing. During shop class, Charlie notices a senior named Patrick who is in a class with all freshman because he has failed the class three times before, and later when he sees Patrick at the school’s football game, he introduces himself to Patrick and is delighted when he’s invited to sit with him. He is soon introduced to Sam, Patrick’s step-sister, who Charlie is immediately enamored with. After the football game Sam and Patrick invite Charlie along to the popular hangout Kings, and the three begin a friendship. As Charlie walks into his home that night, he witnesses his sister Candace being slapped across the face by her boyfriend who everyone calls “Ponytail Derek,” and after Derek leaves, Charlie confronts Candace. She pleads with him to not tell anyone, especially their parents, but Charlie is deeply disturbed by what he saw and fears that his sister will become the victim of the type of abusive relationships his Aunt Helen suffered through most of her life. He shares his fear with Candace, but she dismisses his worries and promises it won’t happen again and that she’s not like Aunt Helen.
Soon after that incident, Charlie attends the Homecoming dance, and has a great time dancing with Patrick and Sam. After the dance, Charlie is invited to come with them to a party where he unknowingly eats weed-laced brownies and becomes very stoned. When Sam discovers Charlie in his stoned state, she asks Charlie if he’s ok, to which he replies that he really wants a milkshake, giving everyone around him a good laugh. Sam brings Charlie into the kitchen and makes him a milkshake, and as she does so, Charlie tells Sam about his friend Michael committing suicide and that he has no friends other than Sam and Patrick. Sam is saddened by this information, and tells Patrick about their conversation, which leads Patrick to lead everyone in a toast to their new friend Charlie, the wallflower. From them on, he spends all of his free time with Sam, Patrick, and their group of friends who have accepted Charlie into their clique. He learns a lot about his new friends, particularly Sam and Patrick. Patrick, who is openly gay, has a relationship with Brad, an extremely closeted gay member of the football team who only sees Patrick in secret and ignores him at all costs when they’re in public. He also learns about Sam’s past and her reputation for being easy due to her low self esteem leading to her to drink heavily and engage in sex with older boys when she was a freshman, but she’s much different now and has a boyfriend who is in college but doesn’t always treat her well, much to Charlie’s dismay. As the school year continues, Charlie goes through a series of events that eventually lead him to have a mental breakdown, leading him to be admitted to a mental hospital. The story ends as Charlie is released from the hospital and is reunited with Sam and Patrick and with Charlie having a much brighter outlook on life.
Now that we’ve gone over what the story is about, let’s talk about the movie adaptation. The main thing that made it so good was that the author, Stephen Chbosky, wrote the screenplay and had creative control over the movie as a whole. He chose the absolute perfect cast, Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, and Ezra Miller as Patrick, and other great actors that were a perfect fit for their characters. Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie was so well done, portraying his shy nature, extreme vulnerability and sweet and loving demeanor, as well as the darkness that lies just beneath the surface was absolutely amazing. If you’ve seen Lerman in his other roles or in interviews, he really transformed into Charlie, leaving no recognizable trace of himself. The same can be said about Ezra Miller, who was previously known for his role as Kevin in the movie “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (which is actually next week’s Movie Monday!) where he played a homicidal teenager in an incredibly dark role that he played so well to the point of it being eerie. Emma Watson, known to the world as Hermoine from Harry Potter, completely shed her previous role and her English accent to play an American teenager, perfectly playing Sam’s vulnerability and emotional turmoil, making it so completely believable. The rest of the cast also dug deep into their roles and played them perfectly.
There are a few differences between the book and movie, but the story didn’t suffer for it. Chbosky decided to take out the chain smoking the characters indulge in, and took out the fact that Charlie told Mr. Anderson about his sister being in an abusive relationship which Mr. Anderson felt compelled to tell their parents, causing a rift between Charlie and Candace. He also left out the fact that Candace became pregnant with Derek’s baby, and she only told Charlie because she needed someone to take her to get an abortion and she knew Charlie wouldn’t tell anyone. Aside from those and a few minor changes, the movie was exactly like the book, and the cast could not have been more perfect. Although the movie is technically set in the early nineties, it felt as though it could have been set in current times, or any time before or after due to the universal messages of the story.
It is a great book, and also a great film and I fully recommend both of them if you haven’t seen/read it already.
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Coming up: review of Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan!