I AM NOT THE PERSON you want to sit next to during the Harry Potter movies. Or The Hunger Games. Or any other adaptation of a wildly popular book. I just sit there, jabbing the ribs of whoever's unfortunate enough to sit next to me, whispering about what's different. So after I read—and completely fell in love with—The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I dreaded seeing the movie. I didn't think I could stomach any changes to such a sweet, sad, and triumphant story. But guess what? This movie totally worked! I still can't believe it.
For the uninitiated (WHY ARE YOU UNINITIATED, YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK), Perks is about a teenage outcast, Charlie (Logan Lerman), in his first year of high school. His only friend has just killed himself, he dearly misses an aunt who died several years before that, and he pours his heart into letters to a person he's never met. Charlie has the great fortune to befriend stepsiblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) and their band of punk-rock theater nerds who help him have fun and deal with some serious shit.
Author Stephen Chbosky had the incredible foresight not to option Perks to the Hollywood machine: He sat on those valuable rights for the last 13 years, tinkering with the screenplay himself, until he could eventually put out the movie he wanted for the fans he valued. He directed the film, too. I recently got to speak with Chbosky, and while part of me wanted to seem cool and professional, a bigger part of me—the fan part, the part that won out—just wanted to know why he cut the stuff he cut. Chbosky patiently explained, "I think there are certain people who loved the book who will see the movie who really will wish I'd put in this scene or that scene, but I can assure anybody who loved the book that if anything's left out, it's left out for a reason, and it was my doing. All I wanted was for people at the end of the movie to feel that sense of catharsis, the way they did in the book." It would have been an unsatisfactory response, if Chbosky hadn't succeeded in doing just that.
In addition to some ace adapting by Chbosky, the kids in this movie play a huge hand in making it great. Lerman's Charlie is as uncomfortable and sweet as I wanted him to be. Miller's Patrick took me a few minutes to understand—he was more out there than book-Patrick—but eventually I came around. But it was Watson's turn as Sam that's the most interesting. There was potential for it to be way too distracting to see somebody from Hogwarts with an American accent in early '90s Pittsburgh, but thankfully, she gives Sam a sweet vulnerability that Hermione never had. Chbosky told me one of his favorite moments from the movie was watching her transformation in a scene that takes place in a tunnel. "It was like she entered the tunnel as Emma Watson and she left the tunnel as Sam.... [Watson] never got to be a kid kid," Chbosky said. "And what I saw on her face in that moment was someone who was absolutely free. Who got to be a kid." Yeah. It's pretty great.
Fangirling aside, if you haven't read the book, you've been to high school, so you're gonna relate to this film. The cathartic Perks captures the sometimes-awesome/always-awkward pains and victories of American teenagerdom in a way that few movies do. Get ready for some flashbacks.
For Elinor's full, giddy interview with writer/director Stephen Chbosky, go here.