Adapting books to screen can be a tricky business – as the recent crop of literary adaptations will testify (Great Expectations, On the Road, Cloud Atlas… need I go on?). But it is seldom that the author takes the sceptre in hand for his own work – which does not necessarily qualify him or her as a film maker – with certain notable exceptions (like Paul Haggis). Novelist Stephen Chbosky, however, whose 1999 best-seller THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER generated much heated dialogue at the time, was able to persuade the producers of Summit Entertainment and John Malkovich’s Mr. Mudd to let him take the reins. And a fine job he has made of his directorial debut, finally giving birth to a movie for the teen market that is intelligent, witty, and perceptive.
It is Charlie’s (Logan Lerman) first year in high school and he is plunged into the problems which every pupil seems fated to encounter: he is mobbed, excluded, mocked and bullied. All of which is to change when he meets and is befriended by senior-class siblings Sam (short for Samantha, played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller, who made a splash in last year’s Oscar nominated WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN). Flung head first into wild parties, hash brownies (soon to be followed by LSD), and “First Love” – all at once. A bit much for Charlie, 15 years old and struggling with his own mental health issues, which he keeps at bay by writing about his experiences – and those of his newfound friends – in letters to an anonymous pen pal. We later discover this to be his best friend Michael, who shot himself the year before.
The novel may be thirteen years old, but the themes it tackles – and which the film for its part polarises – such as teenage angst and depression, peer pressure, child abuse, and suppressed homosexuality, are as relevant today as ever.
Chbosky has not only painted an accurate picture of the times, the school year of 1991/92: the music, technology and fashion – but he has coaxed excellent performances from his young and talented cast; especially Lerman’s portrayal of the sympathetic Charlie. At only 20, he already has some respectable credits to his name (PERCY JACKSON, 3:10 TO YUMA, and THE NUMBER 23).
It’s not often that a novelist gets the chance to breathe life into his own work and Chbosky, who not only executive produced and penned part of the soundtrack, has done a superb job of transitioning his R-rated book into a PG-13 movie. PERKS was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is currently generating some Oscar buzz.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (USA 2012); Distributor: Summit Entertainment/US release: October 12th, 2012; German Title: Vielleicht lieber Morgen/Distributor: Capelight Pictures/Release date: November 1st, 2012; Writer/Director: Stephen Chbosky; Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Paul Rudd; Running time: 103 Mins., Rated PG-13