“This story is forever,” author Stephen Chbosky says of Perks of Being a Wallflower. A bold statement but then again this is a bold book.
Originally published in 1999, Perks introduces us to Charlie. No last name, not even his real name because Charlie’s name is not important. His story is. In a series of letters to an unnamed friend, Charlie shares his thoughts, feelings and observations during that awkward freshman year of high school.
Remember that time? Sure, some of y’all probably had a golden hall pass but for others the insecurities, uncertainties, and fears that accompanied high school either remain in the fore front of their minds or are locked away in a box in the back awaiting the key that fits the lock.
Perks of Being a Wallflower is that key.
Regardless of the design, content or consequences of your box, Perks has the uncanny ability to do what few books/films about adolescence can do . . . examine the humanity and inhumanity of being a teenager in equal light and, as cliché as it may sound, help you realize that it does get better- and for Charlie it does with some help from his friends.
Fairly early in the story, Charlie meets step-siblings Sam and Patrick and is ushered onto the ferry that lands on “the Island of Misfit Toys”. What follows is an exploration of sexuality, suicide, bullying, fitting in and drug use that reads as authentic experience- and that authenticity feels more genuine in today’s social climate.
The nature of Charlie’s newly formed friendships are a testament to not only the characters Chbosky creates but the true value friendships have during adolescence. “When you’re young your real love story is your friendships,” Chbosky shares.
Today marks the wide release of the book’s film adaptation. In direct accordance with the story’s truthfulness, the film was adapted and directed by author Stephen Chbosky. “This was my dream. This is 21 years,” Chbosky confesses. “Either I was going to direct this movie or this wasn’t going to exist. I had the book and that was fine. I knew what this book meant to certain kids and I couldn’t let it go.”
Chbosky’s passion for these characters and the story is evident throughout the film’s entire process. From the meticulous casting- Charlie is deftly portrayed by Logan Lerman, Sam is played with an unabashed honesty by Emma Watson, and Patrick is owned by the commanding Ezra Miller (Chbosky refers to Miller as a “miracle”)- to researching how other films garnred their ratings to ensure Perks’ availability to adolescent audiences, Chbosky left nothing in the film up to chance.
The film’s adaptation is nothing short of marvelous. Additional inspired casting choices (come on, who doesn’t want Paul Rudd as their English teacher), creative imagery juxtaposition (the path from communion wafer to LSD intake), and a faithful interpretation of the book’s ambiguity are just examples of the success of Chbosky’s vision.
“I wanted to make a movie that not only validated what [teenagers] are going through but also give them some role models in life,” Chbosky shares. And the film abounds with flesh and bone characters who serve as role models while on their paths to redemption and self-acceptance. Patrick, who lives his life proudly in the story as a gay male, and Sam, who strives to recreate herself from a shameful sexual past, serve as shining examples to youth today. They show audiences that it’s okay to make mistakes and okay to grow- that those growing pains can serve our best interest. Even Charlie’s external and internal battles with suicide are written with such unflinching honesty, they serve to shake things up and hopefully open up a wider dialogue about today’s social climates.
Maintaining his desire to create role models, Chbosky made a glaring change in Patrick’s character from the book to film. In the book Patrick smokes, yet onscreen you never witness Miller lighting up. “I knew that the character of Patrick had the potential to be so powerful as a hero,” Chbosky admits. “I knew if Patrick smoked that 50,000 kids would pick up this year . . . I know this book has literally saved lives and I couldn’t kill kids by letting [Patrick] smoke.”
While I could certainly write an entire thesis espousing the hopeful cinematic consequences of Perks, Chbosky’s sincere dedication to these characters and this story, and the book’s effects on my own personal growth, instead I challenge you to truly open up your mind this weekend, buy a movie ticket and, if so inclined, pick up a copy of the book. Close your eyes and remember what it was like to be 14 or 15 years old again and then open them and tell me things haven’t gotten better.
Perks of Being a Wallflower opens Friday September 28th at UA Tara on Cheshire Bridge. Purchase tickets here.