“Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Pay Off for Director-Writer
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Do you remember high school? Were you one of the popular kids? Or were you a didn’t-quite-fit-in wallflower?
Stephen Chbosky wasn’t all that popular while in high school. Maybe that’s why he wrote a coming-of-age novel about a boy like himself in a suburb of Pittsburgh.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” he titled it. The story is written in an epistolary style, like a series of anonymous letters.
The book begins:
“I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that.”
This first novel was published by MTV Books and became an immediate hit with teenagers.
Not satisfied with that (after all, Chbosky was a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Filmic Writing Program) he turned it into a movie.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is currently playing hooky at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, we meet Charlie (Logan Lerman). On his first day as a freshman at a Pittsburgh high school, the 14-year-old feels really out of it, only making friends with his English teacher (Paul Rudd). Eventually, he adds two more friends, Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) – odd-duck seniors who invite him to join the “Island of Misfit Toys.”
From ingesting Alice B. Toklas brownies at a party to performing lead roles in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the threesome grows closer. Sam delivers Charlie’s first real kiss; Patrick is outted; and Charlie reveals a dark secret.
Yes, it’s a sadly realistic look at the life of an introverted teen.
You’ll remember Logan Lerman from his titular role in “Percy Jackson & the Olympians, his bid to be the next Harry Potter at the box office. He will be following that up with “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.”
Emma Watson has an even better pedigree, that of Hermione Granger in the eight “Harry Potter” films. She’s slated to appear in Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” Logan Lerman joins her in “Noah,” this time playing her stepbrother.
Ezra Miller cut his acting teeth as Tilda Swinton’s troubled son in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Next up, he’s going to be in Sophie Barthes’s adaptation of “Madam Bovary.”
Director-writer Stephen Chbosky admits that his “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is semi-autobiographical, although protectively pointing out “my life in high school was in many ways different.”
Not surprisingly, Chbosky says his writing was influenced by J.D. Salinger’s “Cather in the Rye,” as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams. Screenwriter Stewart Stern (“Rebel Without a Cause”) became his mentor.
Do you get the picture here? A “resistance to growing older and desire to protect childhood innocence,” as Salinger’s Holden Caulfield has been described.
Along with certain books by Key West’s Judy Blume, Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has appeared on the American Library Association’s lists of the 10 most frequently challenged books. This due to parental complaints about sex and drugs in the book.
As Judy Blume says, “Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.”
I’m pretty sure Stephen Chbosky would agree.