Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Cinestudio: “Perks of Being a Wallflower” stays true to the novel



This year finally saw the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s famous young adult novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The story follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy, awkward teenager feeling displaced and confused by the pressures of life as a freshman in high school. Along the way he gathers a rather motley collection of friends: Patrick (Ezra Miller), the resident queen; Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) a punky wannabe activist; and, most importantly, the lovely Sam, played by the ever-stunning Emma Watson in her first major on-screen role since Hermione Granger (unless, of course, you count her handful of lines in last year’s “My Week with Marilyn”).

Their experiences run the gamut of teenage angst – sex and sexuality, drugs and alcohol, dating and friendship, and those occasional, effervescent moments Chbosky so famously dubbed, “feeling infinite.” All of this is set against the dark backdrop of the secrets of Charlie’s past: there is mention of a close friend’s death, as well as several hints about a rather complicated relationship with his mysterious Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey makes a cameo appearance). I won’t go into the ins and outs of the plot and I certainly won’t spoil the film for those of you who didn’t already worship the book; however, I will say that the movie presents a somewhat tamer version of the story. Whereas Chbosky’s novel pushed the boundaries of what is appropriate for a young teen to read about, the film adaptation appeals to a wider audience. The film even comes packaged up with a feel-good soundtrack and vibe that are in stark contrast to the jagged awkwardness of the novel.

Interestingly enough, unlike most novel-to-film adaptations, Chbosky took over just about every facet of creative control in the making of the film. Not only did he write the screenplay, adapted from his own novel, but he also directed and executive produced. Clearly, this story is so near and dear to Chbosky’s heart that he couldn’t dream of relinquishing control to anyone else. It is easy to see why, too—“Perks” is so renowned for its intimate, personal, relatable nature, I can imagine that a large portion was based on the real experiences of Chbosky and his friends growing up—though that is only conjecture. Being that the author of the book actually made the movie, one can’t really say that the movie wasn’t faithful to its source; however, there are differences between the two.

As previously mentioned, the movie struck me as having been “cleaned up” a bit. I wondered if Chbosky, having lived with one incarnation of “Perks” for so long, decided that it was time for a change of scene. He gave the film a pop quality that, at least when I was growing up and passing “Perks” around amongst all my friends, the book was not known to have. Perhaps that is Chbosky’s way of indicating that the ideas embodied in “Perks”—figuring out who you are as you mature and surpassing the traumas of the past—apply to everyone, and can still wield the same potency in many different forms. Whether you’re a newcomer or old fan, I think you’ll be pleased with the life the story has taken.

Part of the film’s success is due to its promising young cast. Logan Lerman as Charlie has its kinks to work out: it was evident that there was some difficulty on the part of both the actor and director to reconcile the character of Charlie on screen. Though it’s understandable—I imagine trying to render such appealing awkwardness in a commercial film would be like trying to assign a young actor to effectively portray Holden Caulfield on screen (an endeavor I think we should all wholeheartedly resist undertaking!). However, I for one am excited to see what else Lerman has to offer. The same goes for Ezra Miller, who absolutely won me over in last year’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”—I mean, only someone with real acting chops could hold their own alongside Tilda Swinton the way he did. Comparatively, Miller went for much lighter fare with “Perks,” but I have no doubt we’ll all be seeing amazing (and amazingly devastating!) things from him in the future. Lastly, who could forget Emma Watson—I can only imagine how badly she must want to rid herself of Hermione Granger forever and ever. She is definitely on the right track: she accessed a totally different character—an averagely smart, wayward, sexually uninhibited (non-magical) American teen—with surprising grace. Is she the next Naomi Watts, who can say? But the rest of her career is laid out at her feet and I can only hope she continues to make as suitable decisions as this one.

Altogether, with Chbosky’s and the force of some of the most promising acting talents-on-the-rise, “Perks of Being Wallflower” is a complete attempt at making screen magic out of one of young America’s most beloved novels.

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