The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the first books fourteen-year-old me downloaded when I got a Kindle for Christmas and it has remained one of my favourite books since. Perks is a journal, written in letter form by Charlie, a high school freshman, detailing his first year in high school (and the friends he made there) as he struggles to come to terms with the immense tragedy that he has faced. It’s one of those books that gets better each time you read it, and one that I have understood more clearly as I’ve gotten older. Funnily enough, I had never seen the movie adaptation of the book and I think it was perhaps because I was certain, in some far-off corner of my mind, that no movie director could possibly bring this intense, compelling novel to life on screen in the same way author Stephen Chbosky makes it come alive in the reader’s head.
In a highly-unusual move, Chbosky directed the movie adaptation of the novel, and I think this has both strengthened and weakened the film. A major strength of the film is the casting, which is almost unnervingly apt, with each of the cast perfectly embodying their character. Special praise must be given here to Ezra Miller, who plays Patrick, Charlie’s witty yet tragic gay friend. Miller shifts from catty one-liners to moments of heart-breaking despair in a manner of seconds, leaving viewers disoriented and in awe of Miller’s talent as an actor.
Whilst one might expect that a movie adaptation directed by the author of the novel would strictly adhere to the book’s plot, this is not the case in Perks. A crucial plot point centred around a teenage abortion was omitted from the film, a decision justified by Chbosky as a requirement for a PG-13 (12A) rating. This has, as expected, generated controversy and I can empathise with those readers who feel that this omission is a cop-out. As the debate on abortion in Ireland intensifies in the lead-up to a referendum on the abolition of the 8th Amendment, that scene is more relevant now than ever and- as a reader- the missing scene in the movie is glaringly obvious.
Aside from this one rather large flaw, Chbosky’s movie adaptation of his own novel is good. The novel is set in the 90s, but the absence of any technology or notable 90s fashion trends (no double denim to frighten unsuspecting viewers) in the movie ensures that this story is universal. The themes addressed within the movie (abuse, homophobia, drug use and mental illness, to name a few) are heavy and raw and remain all too relevant today. However, the simple acts of kindness performed by Charlie and his friends are inspiring and uplifting, and they remind the viewer that no matter how bleak everything seems, there’s always someone there for you.
For most of us, our teenage years have so far been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and it is likely that our lives will continue to be that way throughout the whirlwind of college and even into the “real world” after graduation. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a movie that acknowledges that growing up isn’t always easy, but that it does get better. In the words of protagonist Charlie, “I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”