For years, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been at the top of the must-read list for young adults. Tackling issues like depression, suicide, drug use and sexual abuse — all from the perspective of a introverted 15-year-old boy — the novel has been a touchstone for troubled teens ever since its release more than a decade ago. Given its phenomenal success, it was only a matter of time before Perks hit the big screen.
Unlike most book-to-film adaptations, however, Perks has been written for the screen and directed by Chbosky himself. This results in an adaptation that is remarkably consistent with the original work — one that will please any hardcore fan of the novel — though something has still been lost.
The epistolary structure of the novel translates easily to voice-over by Charlie (Logan Lerman), the awkward protagonist just trying to fit in, and flashbacks give the audience greater insight into his difficult past. These techniques are apt since the book is written exclusively from Charlie’s point-of-view and there are many details that would be difficult to convey otherwise. As a result, the film (like the novel) sometimes tells more than shows, leaving little for the audience to interpret themselves.
Overall, Chbosky includes most of his book in the film. The big exception is the lack of a major subplot involving Charlie’s older sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and her abusive relationship. The film introduces this thread only to allow it to quickly fall away, leaving out key events and “resolving” it later with a single line of voice-over. Although I’m personally a fan of that part of the book, its omissions does not affect the film or plot, which is pretty loose to begin with.
The cast features a number of rising young stars, as well as a solid roster of supporting adults. Lerman’s depiction of Charlie is equal parts deadpan awkwardness and earnest introspection. Similarly, Ezra Miller stands out as Patrick, a seniors who takes the wallflower under his wing. Miller is often goofy and provides relief in tense moments, while also delivering authentic emotion when Patrick experiences his own struggles. Although Emma Watson is a competent actress and has a few genuine moments as Charlie’s crush Sam, she is generally bland and often stiff in her performance. That said, Sam is a bland, idealized character thanks to her only being seen from Charlie’s point-of-view, and in that case Watson’s performance works.
What the film brings to the story that the novel tends to lack is humor. Although Charlie’s awkwardness is well drawn in the novel, it is just that — more awkward than laugh-out-loud funny. The film allows us to see his interactions more clearly and find more humor in them despite how decidedly heavy the subject matter becomes later in the story. As an adaptation The Perks of Being a Wallflower is exceptional, and the added lightheartedness is a welcome addition.