Seven years ago, I read Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time. I’ve been reading since I was four-and-a-half, and while, as I’ve previously mentioned, usually I read superficial teen fiction, every now and then I read a book that genuinely changes my life, most notably by altering the way I want to write. Perks gave me the ream to write a book that would change someone’s life.
So when I heard that they were adapting it into a movie, and that the author, Stephen Chbosky, would be writing and directing it, I pretty much cried. I finally saw the movie I’ve been waiting seven years to see, and it was perfect. I should warn you that this review is probably going to suck, since I don’t think there’s a single thing I didn’t like about this movie…so, you know, have fun reading my love letter to Perks of Being a Wallflower.
First, a quick rundown of the plot. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is about to start high school, just a few months after his best friend committed suicide, requiring Charlie to get psychiatric care. He feels like an outcast at school until he meets Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller), seniors who slowly introduce him to drugs, music, and love.
I need to start this review by complimenting the performances. Logan Lerman was absolutely phenomenal. Charlie is stuck in his own head, but at the same time, he’s so aware of everything that’s happening. One of my friends mentioned that she knows someone who didn’t like the book because Charlie was too much like Holden Caulfield. But I think there’s an important difference between the two: Holden hates everything, but Charlie genuinely loves everything and everyone he sees. That balance being so fascinated with everything and fear over expressing what he feels was beautiful embodied by Lerman. That scene when he finally told Sam how he felt was so brilliantly done – every look he gave her throughout the movie, everything he said, came to a head, and Charlie’s fear and relief over finally expressing it was written all over Lerman’s face. He was the Charlie I see when I read the book.
The other performance I need to praise is Ezra Miller’s. I never had a physical idea of Patrick, but as soon as I saw the trailer, I knew they found him. He was funny without being distracting, having sexuality issues without being a caricature, and when he finally exploded, it hurt. You felt how betrayed he was by Brad, and when he broke down in Charlie’s arms and kissed him out of desperation, you just wanted to be there for him. You wanted to be the one to defend him in the cafeteria when he started a fight with Brad and his friends. The same way Lerman embodied Charlie’s mental struggles, Miller hauntingly embodied Patrick’s insecurities and eventual devastation.
The movie adaptation of a book is never going to tell the same story. It’s just not possible, especially with this book, which is told through letters Charlie writes. In those letters, he’ll sometimes summarize events or only share a few highlights from a particular night. But the movie fleshed some of those out, such as his relationship with Mary Elizabeth, which played out over a montage, allowing the audience to see their incompatibilities. The most notable is Charlie’s breakdown at the end – in the book, he simply stops writing for a few months after noting that he’s getting bad again. But we see him sitting alone in his room, telling himself to stop crying, as he finally realizes what his beloved late aunt did to him. The events of his breakdown can’t be glossed over in a medium like this, and watching Charlie reach for a knife, and his sister yell for one of her friends to call was the police, was terrifying.
The growth of his friendship with Sam was also so well done. In the book, it’s never made clear if Patrick and Sam know what happened to Charlie’s best friend, but in the movie, he tells Sam after he eats a few pot brownies, which I think was a strong choice; it gives Sam and Patrick a reason to let him in and it’s also sort of a quick way of letting them know that Charlie’s brain doesn’t exactly work the same way theirs do. Sam responds to that innocence in Charlie, and she’s afraid he’ll wind up broken, just like her (though, little does anyone know that he is just as broken, in the same ways). They’re sort of a mix of love interests and a big sister/little brother; Sam has a boyfriend most of the time she knows Charlie, but there is still a deep connection between the two of them. She tells him she was molested as a child, and she kisses him to make sure his first kiss comes from someone who loves him. The girl who feels broken is doing everything she can to keep Charlie safe, and it just makes it that much more satisfying when they finally get together at the end. Even when Sam comes back from her college program at the end of the summer, when Charlie leaves the hospital after his breakdown, she still wants to be with him; she knows what Charlie’s like and she doesn’t care.
A few other random thoughts:
-I loved how they handled Brad. We see him at the Rocky Horror shows, both in the audience and backstage; he’s not Patrick’s secret boyfriend. Everyone who matters knows about them; Brad’s not out, but Patrick doesn’t have to hide him from the people he cares about most.
-Seriously, the “I feel infinite” scene. Ugh, just so good.
-On that note, part of what made me so emotional watching it was because I go to school in Pittsburgh, where the story takes place, so I recognized a few locations. During the “I feel infinite” scene, they drove through a tunnel I’ve been through, and looked out on a view I’ve seen dozens of times. Part of the reason I love the book so much is because of how personal it feels, and this just added to that.
-Mae Whitman is flawless, no matter what.
-Logan Lerman’s little tics as Charlie were brilliant. The singing and dancing around in his room, his utter joy while high, and just his face in general. Ugh. So perfect.
What did you guys think of Perks of Being a Wallflower? Let me know in the comments, and as always, if there’s a movie you think I’d enjoy that you want to see me cover, let me know!