For a number of people in my generation, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is beloved literature. First published in 1999, it has become a classic young adult novel for the millennial generation. I remember first reading it in ninth grade because my friends said it was just fantastic. It was one of those books that you just had to read. Even though it was a young adult book, it’s really for older teenagers. I wish I had waited a couple years to read it. At the time I read it, I greatly enjoyed it, but I think I needed to be a bit more mature before I could fully comprehend how awesome it truly is.
Before seeing the film, I decided to revisit the novel. The story centers on a young man named Charlie. He is just starting his freshman year of high school. His best friend committed suicide and he basically has no one. The novel is told through a series of letters between Charlie an anonymous person he only ever refers to as “Dear Friend.” Based on the format of the novel, I was extremely worried at how it would translate to film. I didn’t want it to lose any of Charlie’s insight and I was struggling to see how they would convey everything in a screenplay.
My worries were for naught, though. In the hands of anyone else, this film would have probably been a terrible adaptation. However, the novel’s author, Stephen Chbosky, both wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The best book-to-movie adaptations are the ones where the author is involved in some way. This was an even better adaptation because Chbosky didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s vision. It was his story from beginning to end.
There are some variations from the novel, but they’re extremely slight. The biggest one would be that they didn’t focus as much on the relationship between Charlie (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson & the Olympians) and his sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries). The abortion subplot is completely omitted, but it really didn’t detract from the story.
The thing I love the most about this story is that it doesn’t shy away from the tough things that adolescents experience, but it also doesn’t treat it like an after-school special. It is an honest portrayal of a young boy trying to navigate the world of high school. He has to go through the trauma of finding his place in the world. He eventually befriends the coolest group of people ever, becoming particularly close to Patrick (Ezra Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Sam (Emma Watson, Harry Potter series). He navigates his first relationship with Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman, Parenthood) while being in love with Sam.
The film touches on drug and alcohol use, teen dating violence, infidelity, homophobia, and childhood sexual abuse. However, it also embraces the mindblowing feeling of being young and feeling infinite. The characters literally describe themselves as feeling infinite. For me, this film captures a perfect moment in time. It captures that feeling of being young and having the world in front of you. That feeling that you have nothing but options and can do anything you set your mind to. It’s that joyous feeling of optimism. I feel like I was never more optimistic than I was when I was a senior in high school. For anyone who has forgotten that feeling and needs to be reminded of happier times, this film is perfect. I was in tears by the end of the film, but they were truly tears of joy.