Please welcome Adam from Roof Beam Reader today as he discusses one of his personal favorites, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Page-to-Screen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
How much talent must it take to return to a nearly perfect book and retell it, updating the setting, references, and music, ultimately turning it into a nearly perfect film? A whole lot of talent! That’s Stephen Chbosky, though. His hand in this film, from writing the screenplay to involving himself in casting, music, and editing, not to mention hand-picking the location, is probably the only way this film was ever going to work. Fortunately, Chbosky found a studio willing to give him that much creative freedom and control.
Although there are some changes in the screenplay, most of the book actually makes its way onto the screen. The slow unveiling of Charlie’s inner-demons was handled better than I could have expected. Key scenes, such as Charlie’s dance with Sam and Patrick, the characters’ obsession with Rocky Horror, the major fight scene, and Charlie’s huge “oops” moment during “Truth or Dare” are all there. Other moments that had to be there, the surprising kiss, for example, and the main characters’ liberating rides in the back of a pick-up truck are not only there, but are elevated and highlighted to their appropriate places as essential scenes. Even some of the iconic images from the book’s original cover, Charlie with his hands over his ears or eyes, show up in the film.
Those who have read (or will read) the book will know how important music is to Charlie and to the story in general. The book just wouldn’t be the same without it. So, naturally, one of the things I was concerned about with the film adaptation was how it would address the music – both the soundtrack and the way the characters’ friendship and conversations develop around music and musicality (like the Rocky Horror Picture Show). Fortunately, Stephen Chbosky proves to be as big a music nerd as I am. He kept music at the heart of the film, and the pathos this generates between the film and the audience is brilliant, reflecting the brilliance of that same relationship between the book and the reader (this reader even made a soundtrack, many years ago, based on the music mentioned in the book).
The opening sequence in the film is set to "Could it be Another Change" by The Samples, which could not have been more wisely chosen. The song has become a personal favorite. Chbosky did incorporate a lot more contemporary music, which at first irked me, but in retrospect I see it was an astute choice. It helps modern audiences connect with a story that had been written nearly 15 years before and whose plot was heavily-steeped in the pop culture of the story’s time (early 1990s).
Surprise, surprise. Stephen Chbosky was involved in casting for this movie, too! What a wonderful thing it must be to have so much control over your own creation. Just as Chbosky’s involvement benefited the screenplay and the music, both of which are pivotal to a successful film, in my opinion, so does his involvement in this third major element show great insight and audience-awareness. Casting Logan Lerman as Charlie was a stroke of brilliance, and I have to admit that I often take credit for this because I repeatedly tweeted about that possibility well before the movie was made, and especially after the film option had been announced. So, you’re welcome, world!
Most of the minor characters are excellent, too. Considering that this was a small budget film, it was surprising to see actors like Dylan McDermott (Charlie’s dad) and Kate Walsh (Charlie’s mom) cast. Paul Rudd also has an important role, and Joan Cusack makes a critical appearance near the end. I was initially worried by the decision to cast Ezra Miller as Patrick, Charlie’s best friend. This was the one character who truly did not seem to fit the image I had in my mind, but ultimately there was no reason to fear. I’ve since looked into a lot of Miller’s work, as he’s a fantastic actor.
There was only one slight problem, in my opinion, with the casting, and that was Emma Watson as Charlie’s love interest, Sam. I adore Emma Watson and find her nearly flawless. She did a brilliant job in this role, as far as knowing the character and bringing her to life, my one hang-up was the fact that she’s a very English girl playing a very American role, and sometimes the accent was just too difficult to ignore. I almost wish Chbosky would have adapted the screenplay just enough to make it fine for Watson to speak in her normal accent (it wouldn’t have taken much – she and her brother could have recently moved to town?). Ultimately, though, that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional, nearly-perfect film adaptation of one of the greatest books of my generation.
Overall, while I still prefer the book to the film, this is one of the best film adaptations I’ve ever seen. There are adaptations I prefer to the actual books (such as The Hunger Games, for example) and there are adaptations that I think completely miss the mark (this list would be endless). There are adaptions that come close (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and adaptations I wish I had never, ever seen (The Scarlet Letter).
The reason The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an almost perfect adaptation is not because it is better than the book, but because it is the book, just in a different mode. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a page-to-screen adaptation where I felt that all of the actors must have read and understood the book, and where I felt that I was experiencing the book all over again. Perks does this, and it’s such a great experience!