The Tuesday Zone: The “Perks” and Cons of Fidelity

The Perks of Being Wallflower (2012)

I’m a bit behind in getting to this movie.  Luckily I caught it in a random cinema that was screening Perks on the last leg of its run.  Now, I didn’t really know what to expect out of this adaptation, although I assumed it’d be faithful to the book given that, ya know, the author directed the movie.  But there were some pleasant surprises, and all of them are Paul Rudd.

(2) Poster

Summit Entertainment

Plot Summary: A young teenager, Charlie (Logan Lerman), is about to enter high school.  He’s a bit of a social outcast—and, in true Hollywood fashion, way too handsome to look like that big of a social outcast—and he doesn’t have any friends since his BFF died (forever wasn’t as long as anticipated).  He tries to cope with the strangeness of this new setting and meets some pretty spectacular people, namely Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson).  Perks follows his transformation from awkward nerd into socially functioning member of high school society. Also, Paul Rudd is his high school teacher, who occasionally gives useful insights.

If any of you read the book, which many have, then you know that there’s a lot of depth to this story.  It really is an incredible piece of fiction, and while I normally like to consider a movie as separate from the source material, that’s a difficult task given that the author of the book, Stephen Chbosky (Cha-bawsky? Chh-b-sky?) is also the screenwriter and director.

He has impeccable indie sensibilities.

Summit Entertainment
He has impeccable indie sensibilities.

For die-hards of the source material, that’s great, because this is a faithful adaptation.  Unfortunately, there’s something lacking.  All of the pieces are there, but they lack intimacy.  Everything is translated onto the screen, but the unique strengths of cinema itself aren’t utilized in the way the medium of writing was in the book.

Okay, so we have a case of misguided fidelity to the source material.  But why does that matter?  Well, one: I don’t think the main character and titular wallflower, Charlie, is as strong as he should be.  Without an intimate sense of him as a character and a view into his insights, the complexity and gravity that bolstered the book are lost.  Considering the topics covered, which include homophobia, rape, pedophilia, and a lot more, a failure to delve into the complexities here is a massive failure for the film as a whole.

And two: a lot of the actors and actresses have the facade of their characters, but they don’t feel like real people.  As much as I love Emma Watson and think she’s a brilliant actress, she just doesn’t quite click as Sam.  She doesn’t have that sense of inner turmoil that the writing tries to imply she has.  That’s not at all her fault; Sam just lacks nuance in the script, much like a lot of the characters.

Oh god.  Emma, I'm sorry!  I...I didn't mean it!  Ugh, that's not true.  I did. I do.

Summit Entertainment
Oh god. Emma, I’m sorry! I…I didn’t mean it! Ugh, that’s not true. I did.

I will note, however, that an exception to that is Ezra Miller, who is absolutely fantastic as Patrick.  He steals every scene and embodies his role. Seriously, he is delightful.

This is the only picture I could find, but trust me on this one.

Summit Entertainment
This is the only picture I could find, but trust me on this one.

But anyways, the point I was making with the less interesting characters is this: Perks is ultimately about love, sex, and how our relationships shape our lives.  Yes, okay, that sounds either a) obvious or b) really cheesy, but this movie has a lot to say on the subject.  Every character is in some kind of relationship at some point, and many of them are unhealthy.  There’s an interesting point that Paul Rudd (swoon) makes: “We accept the love that we think we deserve.”  This ties in nicely to all the relationships people end up in where their partner is a complete prig.

But the other kind of sexual relationship the movie touches on to some extent, and the book hits a lot, is of the non-consensual kind.  In the book I think there at least three cases of this, and each is considered with extreme delicacy yet fantastic insight.  But without any way to communicate these insights, which is largely due to the absence of Charlie’s insights, they’re glossed over.  Only at the end do we see the strengths of film as a medium utilized, but it’s too little too late.

Although it does make for great Christmas cards.

Summit Entertainment
Although it does make for great Christmas cards.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that adaptations are tricky. This is a decent to slightly-above-average movie, but it could have been great, and that’s one of the most unfortunate things that can happen.  The possibilities were there, but because of a sense of fidelity to the source material, it’s flat.  A movie can be as close or far apart from its source as it pleases, but a translation will never have the same strengths as something actually adapted for the screen.

Still, for all my whinging, Perks is a fairly good movie with more emotion than most high school stories.  I recommend it if you get the chance, and I think that if Chbosky chooses to direct other projects in the future, then we might see a great talent emerge.

The line “We are infinite” is still cheesy as all hell, though.

One thought on “The Tuesday Zone: The “Perks” and Cons of Fidelity

  1. Pingback: The Tuesday Zone: Adapting the Classics and the Delight of Oscar Wilde | Rooster Illusion

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