The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Updated: Mar 10
You probably may have stumbled into this website, The Screened Word, once upon a time and read my review on the original Perks of Being a Wallflower, didn’t you? If you haven’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Let’s just say I enjoyed it for how thoroughly it tackled the harsh circumstances, turmoils, dilemmas, and collective angst many teenagers went through during their years in high school. I found it to be so good, I put it slightly behind The Catcher in the Rye as one of my favorite books.
Having known how the book went in advance, it goes without saying that I was beyond excited to see how the movie played out.
I’ll give you the story, just so I won’t leave you in the dark about it for long. It is about a young boy named Charlie, who was getting set for his first year of high school. But getting set for all the challenges that came with it was easier said than done; Charlie was still coping from the death of his best friend from earlier in his school years, who committed suicide, he felt a little lost without the guidance of his favorite aunt, Helen, and the closest thing he had a new best friend was his English teacher, Mr. Anderson, whose friendship they had left Charlie viewed by some of his classmates as being the quote-unquote "teacher’s pet".
Fortunately, however, it didn’t take Charlie long before he met one of his classmates from Shop class, Patrick, and his stepsister - and Charlie’s crush - Sam. They started to hit off of each other many times, and pretty soon, they all went off on plenty of wild adventures together that added up to a huge roller coaster ride, including living life to the fullest at their local parties, partaking in stage recreations of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and even Charlie engaging in a sort of jumbled relationship with classmate Mary Elizabeth. These all helped Charlie become more socially active and snap out of his earlier loneliness, although as he went out more and more, he started to also experience symptoms of mental illness, and the social activities in which he has partaken instinctively started to make him come to grips with a certain travesty that occurred to him in the past.
Let me tell you the one thing that got me super excited about this movie. In addition to writing the entire screenplay himself, the author of the original book, Stephen Chbosky, also had the privilege to direct the movie, too. You don’t see that many authors who were lucky enough to transition a story of their own making into the big screen. If the author in question did get to have a say in the movie made off of their story, they either decided to not get involved in the movie's production at all, joined in as a creative consultant (PL Travers of Mary Poppins, for instance), joined in as co-writer of the script while complying with another equally talented writer (Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese of both Goodfellas and Casino), or got the good fortune of writing the entire screenplay him or herself (like William Goldman of The Princess Bride or Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita). Here, the idea of the author of the original story getting to both write and direct the movie version of his story feels pretty equivalent to winning the lottery. Making matters even better was the fact that Stephen Chbosky, in addition to being a talented author, was a talented filmmaker to boot, so this was the perfect blending of his talents.
After watching the movie, I think that the strengths of both Chbosky’s writing and his directing were very evident throughout the movie. Not only did it stick to the core values of the story, but the look, feel, and tone of the movie called back to the emotions and feelings I felt as I flipped through the pages of the original book, and that included a sense of warmth and extroversion. Whether you’re new to the story through this movie or if you read the book, as I did, you can just feel all the expressions and messages of the story coming through as you tagged along with Charlie on his journey.
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at the characters, shall we?
Charlie was still the shy, yet conscientious and well-meaning young man who just wanted to be accepted but was unaware of the problems he was having. Patrick was still the upbeat, cool guy who loved to delight his peers. Mr. Anderson was still the knowledgeable teacher whose social demeanor and fascination with writing made him and Charlie hit off of each other fairly well, even if it was met with silent jeers from Charlie’s classmates. Mary Elizabeth was still the self-interested and gossipy, but still decent, girlfriend of Charlie.
And then, you have Sam.
In the book, she was almost the standard pretty girl you’d hope for Charlie to be together with, while also having to struggle with both her being a stepsister and especially with her social image. Here, Sam maintained all those qualities, while still expressing her feelings towards them with a certain sincerity, sensibility, and conviction that clued us in that she had a lot more on her mind. This, in a weird way, made her feel more human, more identifiable, more interesting, and arguably as easy to like as she was to Charlie.
And I think the key reason for that might be Emma Watson‘s performance, which, I’ll be frank, left me a bit spellbound. And that’s no small feat; at the time of the movie's release, Emma Watson was just hot off the heels of portraying Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter movies. So, she had some big shoes to fill after fulfilling what one can see as the role of a lifetime. And while this is not the hugest role anyone could’ve played, I think she nailed it nonetheless; I felt like I was seeing Sam, and not Emma Watson. Her performance was that convincing.
The acting from the rest of the cast was wonderful, too. Logan Lerman dug deep into the mind of Charlie and went all out there with letting his empathetic natures come into play, and with emphasizing his more identifiable and relatable qualities. Ezra Miller helped make Patrick the type of fun guy you want to be around with, thanks to the charm and goofiness he gave his character. Paul Rudd portrayed Mr. Anderson with a sense of humanity, and in turn, it helped make his moments with Charlie short and sweet.
I could see anyone who saw this movie falling in love with it because of how accurately the story tackled problems that some people may find hard to stomach but is necessary to be addressed to understand everyone else's pain. Charlie had to deal with anxiety issues, depression, and the fact that his best friend from earlier in school had committed suicide. Patrick had to deal with the fact that he and local football player Brad were going out more frequently and fretted afterwards about what anyone, especially their families, would’ve said about their mutual attraction to each other. Sam, debatably, might have had to deal with the fact that outside of being part of a larger pack, she sort of felt like someone's plaything or idol, and that she hoped for at least some acknowledgment of what she’s like as a human being.
While I don’t know as of this writing where I read it from, Stephen Chbosky mentioned once that there was no such thing as a bad guy or a bully in this story; the reason some people may have acted the way they tended to would've been because bad things happened to them in their lives that made them the way they are. That’s very understandable, very deep, and is a therapeutically intuitive way to view things in life.
As far as the movie’s stories were concerned, it may be a recreation of one’s own story, but that’s not to say that it had some trimming to go through to work as a film.
One was, in the book, Charlie documented some visits he had with friends and family throughout his first high school year. One, he described how he had Christmas with his aunt and uncle, and how, at one point, they talked about how Charlie’s favorite aunt, Helen, was molested as a kid. Then, his uncle reflected on how, when he heard about it, he tracked down the molester responsible for it and left him in such a state that he was hospitalized for a while afterward. In the movie, of course, Charlie simply mentioned that to Sam as they were in her bedroom, especially since he did so after Sam confessed to being kissed at a young age by her biological father‘s boss.
Also, Charlie‘s older brother went off to college to study football, and unlike the book, he didn’t make many appearances in the movie outside of family reunions. In the book, of course, one of the episodes in Charlie’s life dealt with him, his family, and some of their relatives – including a racist grandfather – watching one of his older brother's football matches. As nice as it was, I get the feeling that stuff like this had to be taken out for the sake of keeping whichever stories best served Charlie‘s story as a whole, and not in a documentary style.
Another event involved Charlie visiting Mr. Anderson at his house and meeting his girlfriend. It was nice to dive into one of Charlie’s closest friends' lifestyles outside of those of his best friends from school, and it ended on a particularly touching farewell. But again, I think much of the relationship Charlie and his English teacher shared was obvious during the times they had where they simply talked about and admitted some things about themselves and life.
And finally, there was one moment where Charlie’s sister, Candace, hung out with her boyfriend in secret after being caught going out and being stuck in a violent fit from him by her parents, and the relationship was so passionate that Candace found out she was pregnant. It was interesting to watch it address the complicated reactions of anyone who found out they were pregnant, especially at such a young age. Should they tell their parents? How should they tackle this issue? Ultimately, in her case, Charlie volunteered to take Candace to the doctor so she could abort it, so that no one, not even their parents, would've found out about it. It testified, in the eyes of Candace, that Charlie was a genuine wallflower; someone who witnessed the actions of someone else and knew how to keep it a secret. While that subplot was interesting and inflamed some family dramas that were going on, it did feel at times like it was shoehorning more drama into the story. Here, the boyfriend/girlfriend drama Candace had to deal with was good enough for her, her boyfriend, Charlie, and the story as a whole.
The soundtrack for the movie was pleasantly constructed, too. They encompassed the active, enthusiastic energy of the kids during the early 1990s, and if you know what I think about the 1990s, it’s that I find it to be a carefree, but still wild, free, daring, and optimistic time where even noble or daredevilish acts seemed like the coolest thing anyone can do. Of course, the movie is more than just wild spirits and carefree lifestyles; it also addressed some of the deepest themes of the movie, and even the complex emotions that the characters were going through. One of the signature songs of the movie was David Bowie‘s 'Heroes', which described how the singer was aware that not everything was going to last forever, but was still intent on defying all that with his friends and making it worth their while, even if it was just for one day. In the movie, Charlie, Patrick, and Sam all found the song when they heard it through their car radio, and because they were driving close to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, Sam was so mesmerized by the song, that she found it to be the perfect moment for her to stand up in the truck, raise her arms in the air and into the vast, expansive atmosphere in front of her, and watched as she was bathed by the incoming lights streaming towards her as well as her two best pals. That moment was very poignant, deep, symbolically contemplative, and did a good job of putting you into a state of momentary existentialism.
Something else you’d find interesting before I forget was that originally, it was not Stephen Chbosky who was going to direct the movie, but rather, John Hughes.
Yep. No joke.
When The Perks of Being a Wallflower was just getting started on being made into a film, writer and director John Hughes was going to do the honors of taking the wheel, to the point of buying the film rights of the book from Chbosky. At the time, he had to put up with a bad dent on his film record left behind by a streak of underwhelming films, including the 101 Dalmatians remake, Flubber, Baby’s Day Out, and even the third Home Alone. With Wallflower, he hoped to make this movie as a return to form to help him go back to his creative roots when he made teenage films during the 1980s. Those included Sixteen Candles, Ferris Beuller's Day Off, and The Breakfast Club, which I consider to be his magnum opus. Sadly, of course, he died before he went further on the project, so the film rights went straight to Chbosky instead.
You know the story is good when it caught the attention of the master of teenage films himself.
Either way, I’m happy this film came out as it did. It held onto the core values that made the story so beloved, the characters were all unique and identifiable, the acting was terrific all the way through, the tone and feel of the movie synced perfectly with those of the book, and it takes you back to being a high schooler again. Sometimes, looking at life through the eyes of another is super important, and anyone who’s been through the troubles that Charlie went through knows exactly where they are coming from. When all is said and done, any story that can speak to people they're meant for and then some, whether they started as a book, or a movie, or even as a TV show - it doesn't matter which one as long as it had a good story to start with - they deserve to be heralded for the classics that they are.
Hopefully, my review on The Perks of Being a Wallflower, whether it is the book or the movie, will help you consider taking a dip into Charlie’s mind and see if you find it to be as much of a classic as many others do. As much as I do.
My Rating: A-