Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve. – Bill, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say we avid readers always go through a conflicting sense of excitement and skepticism when Hollywood gets hold of our favorite books and adapts them for the silver screen, am I? Maybe I am, but it feels right, so I’m going with it. I’ve been burnt one too many times not to believe it makes some sort of sense. So when Hollywood gets it right, really right, all I want to do is celebrate, and celebrate I will with the unadulterated joy that comes from Stephen Chbosky’s direction of his luminous and heartrending The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I read Perks a few years ago, back when I was not only very new to LGBT fiction but also was as virginal as it’s possible to be in the realms of Young Adult LGBT. Well, let me just say, I owe this book a huge debt of gratitude for turning me on to the beauty of the sub-genre.
Charlie is the fifteen-year-old author of his story through a series of letters he addresses, “Dear friend,” his friend being, I like to pretend, me, meaning the reader. I became Charlie’s dearest friend and confidant by the end of this book, and where Charlie is a sponge, standing on the sidelines absorbing everyone else’s troubles and pains and problems because it’s the only way he knows how to be, I became the sponge who absorbed all of Charlie’s troubles and pains and problems because it was the only option I had. Charlie didn’t leave me much choice but to be his own wallflower, and when he finally broke, I broke with him. The only thing that was missing for me from the adaptation of this book to the movie is that intimacy the reader has with the story, but what more than made up for that missing piece is the joy of seeing these actors breathing life into the characters, and doing it flawlessly.
Logan Lerman plays Charlie beautifully, with the pitch-perfect innocence and vulnerability and fragility of a friendless teenage boy, friendless because the one boy he’d once called friend committed suicide in junior high, friendless because there are some kids who unintentionally invite the wrong sort of attention from their peers simply because they’re different. Charlie is a boy whose mind is on the cusp of unearthing a repressed childhood memory that will send him over the edge, breaking him but then ultimately helping him to discover that the truth can and will set him free. Lerman captures Charlie as the boy who allows life to happen to him, who believes that putting others’ lives ahead of his own means love, and who is eventually adopted into a group of misfit kids, headed by Patrick and his stepsister Sam, who, for a while, help Charlie to feel as though he belongs.
This is a story that addresses the vicious cycle of sexual abuse. It’s a story that weaves music and drugs and alcohol into the scope of Charlie’s life. It’s a story of the brutality of high school, especially for the gay football star who’s in love with Patrick but who ends up betraying him brutally, all for the sake of saving his reputation. It’s a story that’s both hopeful and heartbreaking, much like life and love themselves. Yes, there were some things that didn’t resonate in the movie that were present in the book, for instance the depth of the bond that forms between Charlie and his English teacher, Bill, but nothing truly significant was altered to bring this book to life.
Bill sees through Charlie’s reticence, and becomes the boy’s mentor and friend, assigning him a reading list of classic novels, from The Catcher in the Rye to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, each of these books featuring a protagonist who can best be described as flawed in his own way. Charlie is then assigned the task of writing essays on each book, finally given the single directive by Bill to be a filter, not a sponge, which, for Charlie, becomes the directive of a lifetime.
This is both a book and a movie that portrays love in all its forms, through family, friendships, as well as through the sometimes hopeful, sometimes painful sort of love that can only be experienced in high school.
Yeah, I think the story translated luminously to film.
And now, Charlie, Patrick, and Sam truly are infinite.