What a treacherous task to adapt a generation-defining novel: You risk alienating fans of the book if you deviate too much, boring neophytes if you bring too much slavish devotion to the source. And it becomes more perilous if you take on an epistolary or diaristic novel, a distinctly literary form that leans on subjectivity and unreliable narrators tough to capture in film.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower certainly pales in comparison to its incandescent, if corny and melodramatic, novel. It diminishes the book’s unique voice and perspective, but otherwise keeps the narrative largely intact. It’s not perfect, but it ultimately balances the faithful-vs.-accessible tightrope quite well.
The wrench in all of this is that the book’s author muscled himself in as both the writer and director of the adaptation. It’s a recipe for disaster, but Stephen Chbosky emerges relatively unscathed. In fact, he makes more writing mistakes than directing ones, though none of them are movie-torpedoing.
Indeed, a few plot points — a close friend’s suicide, the anonymous letter-writing gimmick, accidental ingestion of drugs, e.g. — feel haphazard or cliche without the running internal monologue that prose provides. The story’s implausible wish-fulfillment factor — nerdy freshman swept up and beloved by cool seniors — is amplified to 11, too.
The movie’s biggest hurdle, though, is Emma Watson. While Logan Lerman proves surprisingly adept at Tobey Maguire-esque gawkiness and Ezra Miller is show-stealing as troubled gay bud Patrick, Watson is so hampered by her horrible attempt at an American accent that it feels like she’s stumbling through the movie. Her read on the character never ascends above basic “dream girl” archetype.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower ultimately ends up feeling fairly fresh and memorable, if clunky from moment-to-moment, but definitely worth a watch for fans of coming-of-age movies.
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.