Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Perks of Being an Adaptation

Before being a movie, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' was a young adult novel written by Stephen Chbosky. You must be familiar with young adult novels. Those in which the hero is a lonely kid going to a new school, finding new friends, feeling like he belongs, falling in love with his best friend, then something dramatic happens and eiher he does or doesn't end up with his best friend becoming his girlfriend. I have read many of these, especially throughout my high-school years. Most of them are not very good (especially on hindsight), but your teenage self does connect with some on a level that just makes you cherish the book for years to come. Not that man years have gone by since my first year of high school (it already been five!?), but back then I read John Green's 'Looking for Alaska' and have kept it by my side ever since. 

As a novel, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' was published in 1999. I was just beginning elementary school in 99, so I am unfamiliar with the novel. From the information I can gather, it was very popular. I asume many people of that generation felt for this book what I felt for 'Looking for Alaska'. As a movie, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower', adapted for the screen and directed by Chbosky himself, can't really escape its historical situation. 

The movie stars Logan Lerman as a lonely boy with a sad past named Charlie. He doesn't have any friends as he enters his freshman year of High School, but he is lucky enough to find a group of eccentric friends led by manic pixie dream girl who he has a crush on Sam (Emma Watson) and flamboyant Patrik (Ezra Miller). -Let me pause a second to say that Ezra Miller is by all definitions the stand-out in this movie. He is by far the one to bring the most realistically human personality and raw emotion to his character, despite the fact of being the flashiest, easiest role to overplay- Now, back to the review; The movie follows Charlie and his friends throughout the year in their many misadventures following pretty much the expected pattern from a young adult novel. And as such, the movie displays both the best and worst of the genre. 

Because of the nature of the book, it feels very episodic. Because at this point there's been hundreds of novels like this one, the plot feels predictable. We also have Charlie's dramatic backstory, which I felt was mishandled, as it is saved for the last portion of the movie and consequently doesn't feel as integral to Charlie's character and the story as it ends up being. It also features some young adult cliches that I can't take at this point. It might be a personal thing, but the love for The Smiths, Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Beatles as especially original? Well, it helps that the movie is set in the nineties. But still, when Emma Watson's character refers to their group of friends as the "islands of misfit toys" I just cringed. 

But, hey, don't be discouraged by all these things. They are all features that the adaptation of a 1999 young adult novel just couldn't escape. It's not its fault that so much of it feels unoriginal in 2012. The strengths of 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' don't lie in its originality, they lie in its earnestness. Something in the performances makes the feeling of friendship between these characters feel genuine. And they play the dramatic moments with in realistic teenage fashion. 

Chbosky clearly has great affection for his novel and his characters and it shows. I don't know if it was his intention to highlight the feelings of friendship and belonging over the plot, but that decision made the whole movie work for me. The same script, handled in any other way might have made me hate this movie. As it is, I actually liked it enough to recommend it. 

Yes, it is flawed. It's not a groundbreaking piece of cinema or the best movie of the year. But, hey, if you are a teenager going through high-school right now, then you will probably love this movie. And if you are someone who has gone through high school, you might not love it, but it will bring back the fond memories of your high school friends. Of being young and in love. Of maybe not being in love with the right person. Of all the high-school teenage drama. You will certainly find something to like here. I know I did. 

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