The adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a writer’s dream come true, because in this rare case the writer – Stephen Chbosky – gets to give his novel justice by directing it, and he does a pretty good job too.
The film focuses on the coming of age of Charlie (Logan Lerman) in the 1990’s Pittsburgh, a shy, introverted kid who, like every writer, has a lot to say but finds no one who would listen (he simply doesn’t know yet it’s totally normal). This is before the Internet age, of course (when Charlie could be a blogger and an online personality, getting his dose of social interaction there), so his solitude is completely overwhelming.
The film begins in an epistolary form, as Charlie is so lonely he can only communicate in written form to an unknown ‘friend’ – his only social contact actually, after his close buddy committed suicide earlier in middle school. Charlie lives with disconnected parents, is plagued by warmly lit yet eerie memories of his aunt (Melanie Lynskey), who died when he was seven, and is routinely bullied at school as a dorky freshman. The awkwardness of each social situation, the bombastic shame of each taunt and ridicule from the "cool" kids, the burning desire to speak to someone – anyone – are all portrayed accurately and meticulously. There is no naive, pristine innocence, like in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days; The Perks of Being a Wallflower is darker, with every emotion as loud and jarring as a boat horn in the middle of the night, and by the end of the movie it is clear why.
Charlie is afraid to betray that he actually has a brain to his English teacher (Paul Rudd) in front of the other kids, and hides in his shell until one lucky day he suddenly speaks to Patrick (Ezra Miller), a fire-cracker class clown and Sam (Emma Watson), the perfect dream girl. Because the kids get Charlie stoned at his first party, and he starts actually voicing the thoughts in his head (which amuses the party crowd to no measure) he finally gets a break and is accepted into this circle of older, cooler kids who embrace their non-conformity and difference. He even gets to date a punk Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) but not because he wants to – you are simply supposed to date someone, that’s all. The spell soon ends, however, but that’s okay: Charlie knows who he is.
The film is an accurate portrayal of the joys and perils of teen years, from peer pressure, sexual identification, drugs, being accepted by society, to fighting past traumas in order to survive. I feel the adaptation is flawed exactly because it is so faithful to the book. A lot of themes can be discussed in a novel due to the sheer space the form offers; in a film so many subplots, conflicts, and tragedies crammed together feel forced. But then again it does reflect just how much there is to deal with growing up.