It is a universal truth that film adaptations of books are notoriously bad, so when I heard that one of my favourite novels was soon to be a major motion picture, I was more than a little wary.
The novel was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. And for those who have read it, you will understand what I mean when I say that it feels like a secret you want to share – but not too much.
It is a simple tale, beautifully told, full of memorable characters, superb one-liners, and the joys and despairs of life. In short, it is the book you wished you had written. And the book you would never want ruined for the benefit of a target audience.
But then the trailer came out, and it was good. It was better than good. It was affecting. The trailer did what the book does every time I read it, it gave me shivers.
So I changed my mind. I wouldn’t boycott it after all. I’d see it and, if those three cleverly-edited minutes were anything to go by, I would enjoy it.
And I did.
The film is faithful to the book in almost every way, which is no surprise, given that Chbosky was both screenwriter and director.
It tells the story of Charlie, the wallflower of the title who is entering his first year of high school.
Charlie is nervous, complex, and highly intelligent. But he is also alone. He drifts through the early scenes, a passive observer, until he meets Patrick and Sam, half-siblings and wallflowers no less, but far more comfortable with it.
It is this trio that make the story. So the casting had to be perfect. And how!
As Charlie, Logan Lerman captures all the adolescent befuddlement, anxiety and excitement of his age. But it is what ripples under the surface that sets Charlie apart as a true literary – and now cinematic – great. By the film’s end, I saw something in Charlie’s journey that I hadn’t seen in five readings of the novel. This is Lerman’s Charlie…and he is even better than the one in my head.
Much has been made of Emma Watson’s transition from Hogwarts to the real world, but as Sam she nails both the accent and the (almost) untouchable ingénue. She is not the Sam I imagined; far from it. But she is not a bad substitute.
And then there’s Ezra – and-the-Oscar-goes-to – Miller, who follows up his terrifying performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin with a perfect Patrick. In a role that could so easily have been cliché, Miller brings texture, heart and at times a desperate sadness to the role.
These characters are not archetypes. They are people. Imagined but no less real.
Both the novel and the film are full of moments, some beautiful, some harrowing, some seemingly mundane but ultimately the ones forever remembered.
Before I saw it, I thought it enough to come out and not be disappointed. But instead I came out with tears in my eyes and the feeling that having experienced the story for the sixth time, it was one I would never tire of.
For those who have read the book, it will be a different experience. My advice if you haven’t is to read it first. It is my (and a few million other people’s) little secret. But it is one that deserves to be shared with everyone.