The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of our fave YA books here at FYA HQ, so you can imagine our dread/excitement when we first heard that the novel was being made into a movie. Would Hollywood turn Charlie into a hapless Judd Apatow-style nerd? Could Sam ever be as impossibly cool as she seems in the book? Would the sheer poetry of the writing survive a transplant on to the silver screen?
Well, my fellow life participators, you can breathe easy, because with author Stephen Chbosky at the helm, this film is a gorgeous, wildly compelling tribute to the novel we all adore and cherish. Allow me to prove to you, with scientific precision, why this movie does justice to its source material, and why you need to head to a theater and see it IMMEDIATELY.
The So-Called Plot
I’m going to cheat and copy/paste the description from my book report, because THAT’S how closely the film follows the book.
Charlie is, in a word, special. (And I don’t mean that in a mentally disabled way, although there is something a bit off about his brain.) In letters to a “Dear Friend,” Charlie chronicles his life as a high school freshman, transforming the mundane into the miraculous with heartbreaking honesty and whimsical charm. He begins the school year friendless and alone thanks to the suicide of his bestie, Michael, the year before and the graduation of his older brother. (He does have an older sister, but given that she can be kind of a biotch, she’s not really a BFF option.) Charlie is determined to make a fresh start and escape the sadness that has threatened to consume him ever since the death of his beloved Aunt Helen. Luckily, he meets Patrick and Sam, a dynamic duo that usher him into a swirling, electric world of new experiences, a magical mayhem bursting with possibilities, happiness and, most importantly, participation.
Logan Lerman as Charlie
Ok, y’all. I know that we made some jokes about “Sad Logan Lerman” when we analyzed the trailer. But HOLY CANNOLI this kid is THE PERFECT CHARLIE. He’s weird and awkward without being cartoonish, and his eyes… HIS SWEET SWEET EYES. Honestly, I was blown away by Lerman’s acting in this film, from his emotional devastation to his hilarious comedic timing, and he looks damn good in a suit to boot. Charlie is one of the most complex and wonderful characters in YA history, and Lerman captured him with respect and passion. Trust me, you’re going to want to hug him approximately 1,000 times during the movie because HE IS JUST THAT PRECIOUS.
Emma Watson as Sam
HERMOINE!!! Yeah, I realize that Emma is trying to expand beyond her Harry Potter past, but it is literally impossible for me to separate my affection for that frizzy-haired wizard from the actress herself. BUT! She really is a different character in this film, and her emotional range is impressive. She sparkles with life and a hint of wildness, and it’s easy to see why Charlie is drawn to her light. She is so beautifully tender towards him, and their scene during her Christmas party should carry some kind of heart explosion warning because YEAH. Well done, Emma! Well done.
Ezra Miller as Patrick
Damn, Ezra Miller totally steals the spotlight in this movie. (Unless Mae Whitman is in the scene. Then FORGETABOUTIT.) He’s ridiculous and dramatic and manic and charming and I NEED HIM TO BE MY BEST FRIEND STAT. Miller deserves major props for balancing the eccentricity of Patrick with his dark emotional turmoil, resulting in a real teenager instead of the “sassy gay friend.”
Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth
OH MAE WHITMAN GIRL YOU HAVE OUTDONE YOURSELF. You’ve taken a character that I didn’t particularly like and made her into a CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE. I mean, look, I love Charlie, obvs, but Mary Elizabeth is HANDS DOWN my favorite person in this movie. She’s snarky and pretentious and GOD I am totally obsessed with her. Like, I’m seriously thinking about dressing up as her for Halloween. And also for THE REST OF MY LIFE.
Honestly, the entire cast is just tip-top, and all of the adults, as famous as they might be (I’m looking at you, Paul Rudd) never infringe on the main focus of the film, i.e. the teenagers. Also, I don’t want to spoil this for you but ok I will because I can’t help myself, OMG CAMERON IS PONYTAIL DEREK.
Chemistry Grade: A
The relationship between Charlie and Sam is wonderfully nuanced in the book, and even though we don’t get the benefit of constantly being in Charlie’s head, it’s delightful to see it played out on the big screen. The film does an expert job at slowly developing the emotional layers between these two v. different people, and it never ventures into Hallmark territory. Charlie’s adoration of Sam made my heart all melty, and her growing feelings for him are authentic and pure. It’s a gorgeous, painful love story, and it’s even better than a fairy tale, because it makes the magic real.
Cliche Count: 15
While the book is wholly original and amazing, that doesn’t preclude it from relying on some of our favorite YA cliches. The movie, thankfully, follows suit.
- Choreographed Dance Routine: 1 (to “Come On Eileen”… and yes, it is AMAZE)
- Wild High School Party: 2
- Loser/Nerd Scores the Unattainable Girl: 1
- Truth or Dare: 1 (OH LORD THIS SCENE)
- Fight in the Cafeteria: 1
- Homecoming Dance: 1
- Surprise Drug Experience: 2
- Awkward Makeout Session: 1
- High School Football Game: 1
- Freshmen Hazing: 2
- Prom Photo Opp: 1
Soundtrack: ’90s Angstastic
The book, which is set in the early ’90s, is packed with music references, and so naturally the movie has a FANTASTIC emo soundtrack. Like, this shizz is MY NEW JAM, Y’ALL. We’ve got the Smiths, Cocteau Twins, New Order, Sonic Youth… I mean, you feel legit just reading that list, don’t you? And it wouldn’t be a quality teen movie without scenes matched perfectly with music, and Charlie, Sam and Patrick’s truck ride through the tunnel to David Bowie’s “Heroes” is effing MAGNIFICENT. But actually, my favorite use of music is when Charlie walks into his first high school party, and Cracker’s “Low” is blaring. As a member of the class of ’97, that song just BRINGS ME BACK.
Slumber Party Potential: Infinite
Let’s be honest. It’s incredibly rare for a movie to ever be as good as the book that inspired it. (I mean, unless the book is terrible. Then you can only go Twilight up from there.) And given Charlie’s unique voice in the book, and the way it feels as a reader to be inside of his head, it is impossible for this film adaptation to be exactly as amazing as its source material. But y’all, this movie gets really, really close. The script, along with the excellent casting, truly captures everything I love about this story–the intense pain and beauty of growing up–and sends it washing over you in rousing waves of whimsicality and sadness.
And even if you haven’t read the book, I guarantee that this movie will immediately jump to your list of classics. This is the kind of film that makes you laugh and makes you cry and, most importantly, makes you feel infinite. And it’s ideal for a slumber party setting, because you’re gonna want to group hug afterwards. Trust.