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.
I have to applaud the approach that was taken to portray Charlie’s abuse. The violence and complete disruption of trust is all the more terrifying because it is shot so tastefully, and the crimes are perpetuated gently, quietly, in a whisper, with a soft “loving” hand of a subdued, smiling female, who is as persistent and controlling a presence to a grown Charlie as she was when she molested him. This is much more realistic than the blood splattered screens some directors favour so much to heighten the degree of such crimes (allegedly). The dream-like quality of a survivor’s memories of the incidents is rendered so realistically it leaves the viewer with uneasy questions: Did it really happen? Is Charlie insane? Are those just hallucinations? – questions that plague all survivors until they learn to let go and move on. By making those choices Chbosky shows he is not just a good writer and director, but an accurate psychologist, who has done his homework (or knows about this from personal experience, unfortunately).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower features gorgeous 35 mm cinematography that captures the dreamlike quality of the movie perfectly, and the Blu-ray doesn’t lose any of those qualities “in translation.” The 1.78:1-framed image, changed from the theatrical 1.85:1, is of high quality, and captures detail wonderfully (stockings on the actors, fuzzy holiday sweaters, etc). The colors and textures are rendered very naturally, lending the movie a more realistic experience. Some problems arise in darker sequences (the park, the night drives, etc) with black levels a bit excessive. Apart from that, the Blu-ray is worth its price.
The 5-channel Master Audio track is both great at capturing the musical score of the movie (seminal to its themes) as well as the dialogues in multiple locations. The sounds effects add to the touchy-feely atmosphere of the movie. Louder sequences (Patrick’s ululations and yelps mostly) can be raspy and not up-to-par, however. There are English and Spanish subtitles on the pack.
“Audio Commentary with Stephen Chbosky” will be an interesting look at the process of adapting material so close to heart for the screen. It is rare to see an author actually share his point of view on both the book and the process of adapting it, offering insight into the decision making process of what to keep and what to toss. The segment also contains jokes and anecdotes fans will enjoy.
The “Cast and Director’s Commentary” is a fun conversation between the cast members that was performed via satellite from LA, NYC, and London, with Chbosky as cheerful chairman. This segment will bring joy to the fans of the film with light jokes from Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, and stories from Emma Watson.
There are eleven (!) “Deleted Scenes” on The Perks of Being a Wallflower Blu-ray, and the segment also focuses on explaining why certain changes were made and important scenes had to be cut (smart decisions they are too). The purists and proponents of the fidelity in the adaptation debate will be furious those seminal scenes were cut, but to anyone who has anything to do with understanding how the two media work, it will be clear why those choices were made.
The “Dailies” are dedicated to more insights into the production of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as narrated by Chbosky. Additionally, there is “Best Summer Ever,” a press-kit, and a Theatrical Trailer, as usual.
Verdict: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a solid coming-of-age film about an outsider learning to live with himself and his past. Blu-ray extras will be of interest to anyone involved with the adaptation of texts for the screen.