Originally Published: June 24th, 2013; Updated: June 24th 2014
Any time a movie adaptation of a book that I love is released, I immediately tell whoever is within earshot to read the book before watching the movie. I do this for two reasons:
- The books often have crucial information and details that are inevitably left out of film adaptations
- The books are almost always better than the film version.
Take, for instance, every single Harry Potter movie. If you didn’t read the books, you would have NO IDEA that Dumbledore was inadvertently responsible for the death of his younger sister. Or that he was arguably the most flawed character in the entire series. And don’t even get me started on how the movie versions treated Tonks and Lupin and their lack of depth in the final two movies, or how awfully Hollywood raped The Prisoner of Azkaban, and how dark The Order of the Pheonix (the book) was and how Harry’s character in the book was so incredibly angsty yet that hardly ever came through in the movie. My favorite is when the movies completely forgot that Neville Longbottom could very easily have been The Boy Who Lived and why Voldemort chose Harry because of the Prophecy made by Professor Trelawney…I could go on and on and on, but I think y’all get the picture.
But every once in a LONG while, a film adaptation comes along that perfectly encapsulates — and even surpasses — the magic of the source material.
For me, that film was The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I originally read the book by Stephen Chbosky in high school. I think it was sophomore year, the same year that I started reading the Harry Potter series and discovered the book that would change my life and inspire me to write: The Catcher in the Rye. When I first read Wallflower, I have to admit that I was not impressed. I didn’t like the “Dear Friend” format, and I felt that, overall, the characters were all very surface-level. Charlie’s voice and Chbosky’s writing style reminded me a lot of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, so I did quite like that aspect of it, but overall, I just didn’t feel the emotional connection to it.
Eleven years passed between reading the book and the release of the film to theaters. Seeing as I have an extreme obsession with Emma Watson, whose Hermione was without a doubt the best part of the Harry Potter films, and Logan Lerman, who I wish wouldn’t age at all because I would love him to play the main character in the imaginary movie version of my book if it ever gets published and lands a movie deal, I was very excited to see the movie.
Watching the movie was a completely life-changing experience.
I actually cried as the credits rolled, making this one of the few movies that have ever made me cry (Full list: Stepmom with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, A Walk to Remember with Mandy Moore – no judgments, Marley and Me – if you’re able to get through the scene when Marley is put to sleep and NOT bawl your eyes out, you’re not human, and Disney/Pixar’s Up).
But it wasn’t a sad cry. It was a WOW! cry. Everything about the movie made me feel again, made me inspired to CREATE again. When I saw the film, I was experiencing a major drought in my creativity. Actually, drought is a tame word. I had no desire to ever really write again. Crazy, right? Anyway, at the end of the movie, during the scene when they’re driving through the tunnel and listening to David Bowie’s Heroes and Charlie is standing in the back of the pick-up and kisses Sam, I actually felt when Chbosky wrote in the book:
I remembered what it was like to feel infinite, in those moments with friends where anything and everything was possible.
A movie has never made me feel that way before. It moved every inch of me.
Obviously I knew that I had to go back and re-read the novel. As an adult, I figured that I would be able to appreciate the book on a whole new level.
I finally found the time last week to re-read it and a wonderful thing occurred to me: the book, even though it came out 14 years ago, feels like liner notes to the movie version. It was like I was getting to know these characters that I fell in love with while watching the movie on a whole new level.
It didn’t feel like the book was infinitely better than the movie. I didn’t think that the movie was disingenuous or does the book an injustice. In fact, I think they go hand-in-hand. I do think that the major difference between Wallflower and every other film adaptation is that the author of the book, Chbosky, wrote the screenplay and directed the film version, so it felt authentic and true to the source material, which is something so incredibly rare in Hollywood.
Not to mention that PERFECT casting. Ezra Miller as Patrick was brilliant. I’d never heard of him before the movie, and re-reading the book, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect actor to fill that role. Even Emma Watson, who, in her first post-Hermione role, was brilliant. IMDB says:
Stephen Chbosky knew he wanted to cast Emma Watson once he saw her in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the scene when Ron breaks her heart and Harry consoles her. Chbosky said: “She broke my heart in that scene. She is crying and I just felt that she had all of the vulnerability that Sam needed.”
Every actor filled the roles I knew from the book perfectly, and really brought these characters, that I thought rather flat when I originally the book, to life.
I had a thought I never thought I would have:
Watch the movie first.
Read the book afterwards.
Reading the book after watching the movie will highlight the experience. At least it did for me.
Either way, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, book and film, is one of those rare entities that is both inspirational and infinite.