Making a good movie about high school is hard. For every great, timeless John Hughes film, there’s a helplessly outdated movie like Clueless. It’s also incredibly hard to adapt a novel into a good movie (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games). So as you can imagine, I was incredibly skeptical of The Perks of Being a Wallflower being made into a movie. The 1999 novel was incredible, and I was expecting to walk out of the theater utterly disgusted. Instead, The Perks of Being a Wallflower became one of my favorite films of 2012, and I now consider it one of the few film adaptations to surpass the novel on which it is based.
The film centers around Charlie, a freshman who befriends two seniors. The film wanders through their daily life, from the lunchroom to class periods to midnight showings of Rocky Horror Picture show. Logan Lerman stars in the title role, and while he does not do a spectacular job, he certainly pulls his weight, hitting all the right notes along the way. Emma Watson breaks free from Harry Potter with the role of Sam, one of Charlie’s best friends. Her performance is good, especially her spot-on American accent, but Ezra Miller is truly the stunner here. His performance as Sam’s gay stepbrother Patrick is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, giving the film a sense of vulnerability that, even with all of the tears that are shed throughout the film, would be nonexistent without Miller’s performance.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the novel. This means that not only is the movie fairly faithful to the novel, but also has the same spirit. It’s set in 1991 Pittsburgh, and is filmed with the glow of a memory. While the film is confident in its time and place, it avoids the problems that befalls so many teenpics of becoming obsessed with its time and place. In fact, the setting is almost irrelevant. The emotions are universal, the situations are timeless, the characters are real, and the film is true to life.
For those who have read the book, it is worth noting that many of the traumatic events that occur throughout the book have clearly been sanitized to fit a more mainstream audience, and a more joyous ending has been supplied. This would usually hold an adaption back from achieving the greatness of its source. Instead, the film takes full advantage of being a softer story, treating the material almost like a soap opera. As devastating as the film can be, there’s always the little voice in the background reminding you that what you’re watching isn’t that big of a deal, and that these things happen all the time. Yet, at the same time, the film makes it clear that what you’re watching is very important. As a direct result of seemingly ordinary occurrences such as a party, or a kiss, the characters in this story are changed. It might not affect where they go to college, or whom they marry, but there is no doubt that the characters are different people when the film is over.
The movie, of course, isn’t perfect. The dialogue falls flat on more than one occasion, and sometimes the film becomes too self-absorbed to see what it’s trying to accomplish, wandering aimlessly without any charm. Yet that’s what high school is about; asking the wrong questions, doing the wrong thing, being a jerk sometimes. It’s about figuring out who you want to be, what you want to accomplish in life. It’s about anxiety, sadness, and laughter. The film’s ability to perfectly encapsulate all of these emotions is what makes it so incredibly, undeniably human.