If you aren't familiar with the story that makes up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I can't begrudge you. Unlike the Harry Potters and Katniss Everdeens of the literary and film worlds, the tale of Charlie hasn't been plastered on every magazine and daytime talk show throughout the land. Yet. Know in certain circles since its publishing in 1999, it has been touted as an answer to A Catcher in the Rye for this generation. Trying not to spoil the story for those uninitiated, Perks is the story of a boy with a troubled and somewhat vague past looking for a place to fit in and feel normal, whatever that means. Everyone has a past, not everyone writes out their experiences to a diary, journal, or letter to the ether they refer to as "friend." The story starts on the first day of freshman year for Charlie. But, that's not where the story begins; every tale has a period of experience for those involved before the first page. Snippets of a foggy past roll in periodically to give us a glimpse of events prior to our introduction to our characters. Our titular wallflower moves through life like an apprehensive tortoise, chugging along, but rarely sticking his head out. Until making a friend.
Our wallflower is played rather deftly by Logan Lerman of the Percy Jackson franchise. The role of Charlie is not a one note, flat character, but a role demanding more than one range of emotion and tone. His first friend in the longest of times and emotional woes is a plucky, extrovert upperclassman named Patrick whose shoes were filled by one Mr. Ezra Miller. Patrick and his step sister Sam played by Emma Watson both require flamboyancy and vulnerability, of which both actors dripped from each pore. Each character in the story is more than one dimensional and are played with an overall sense of dignity and awareness.
As our story of youth, pain, agony, and joy unfolds on the screen, I realize that out of the myriad of pieces that make up the film, I really felt the most connected with the location and soundtrack. Making good, this hometown boy used every advantage of shooting on home turf to get the best locations in the city. Conveniently, this author-cum-director based most locations in the book on places frequented by himself, growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Doing this made location scouting a bit easier for shooting, since he knew where about 90% of the places he wanted to film were, just from memory. Unfortunately, some no longer existed or declined involvement in the making of Perks. Those who declined will soon be asking someone from the advertising department to pull their head out of their a--. The city played a big role in the film and not just as an in joke between Chbosky and fellow Yinzers. It shows how each spot holds a place in Chbosky's heart and/or humorous bone. References to the Fruit Loop in Schenley Park and other spots weren't made only for the appreciation of those in the know, but to hold the story to something familiar, a place were we grew up. The soundtrack itself is going to do amazing numbers on the charts. It has the feeling of remembrance to those that grew up when the book is roughly set and will work as a crash course in good music to those experiencing for the first time. Music plays a major role in the story, both book and film. One gripe I do have is that when something is translated from one type of media to another, you lose that sense of vague romanticism that can be alluded to when only written. Describing a song that fills the characters' hearts full of freedom and understanding in a moment can be left nameless in print, which can make the reader implant what they feel would be most fitting, giving them a sense of connection and communion with the experience. Filming sometimes requires a definitive answer, making the writer (or worse, sometimes the studio) choose one piece to define that moment. Case in point, for all the musical knowledge these teenagers have, hearing a song on the radio that remains lingering in the back of their brains unnamed is acceptable when written on the page. When it's on film and kids who know Sonic Youth, XTC, The Samples, or Morrisey DON'T know Heroes by David Bowie, it's a bit of a slap in the face of every teen that knows good music. It's nice to see that the soundtrack is not only available on MP3 download or disc, but also as a record. As Mary Elizabeth would say, "Everything sounds better on vinyl."
It is always difficult to say how a film like this is going to play out in the long run. It may well do good numbers at the box office, it has already scored a 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.7 on IMDb, but we can only wait and see what happens from here on. Sales are going to be strong in theaters, stronger on DVD/Blu Ray/download release. Sales mean nothing to me, just to the studios. What shows the quality of the work is the staying power. Not in the amount of time in theaters, but in the amount of times it is suggested to be watched by someone else. Much like Bill, Charlie's English teacher, handing down a piece from one person to another makes it much more significant than any review can ever do. Any review but this one. Give it a go and check it out. You can thank me later.