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Saturday, 6 October 2012

On 6.10.12 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

I didn’t enjoy Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and attributed this partly to the fact that I’m not in its target audience of early teen girls. The other part of the attribution was given to the fact that I found it clumsily written.

Its narration, as a series of letters from high school student Charlie to an anonymous reader, was an inspired device, which helped steer an otherwise conventional story. Through Charlie’s first person experiences as a lonely and socially awkward teen, the novel did manage to treat the usual range of coming-of-age themes, including drugs, abuse, sexuality and suicide, in a mature manner, but for God’s sake, it had too much crying in it. Someone cried on every page. Which got boring. I also find it hard to empathise with the American High School system. All the inviting girls to dances and ball games and words like sophomore. To be honest, some of those probably happen in Britain too, but I’ll have been too busy watching Doctor Who to notice them.

Anyway, this lack of empathy with the American High School system still stands with the new film adaptation, as do my mixed feelings on the story, as this, directed by its author, sticks very close to the source material.

I can, in fact, only think of two differences between the plots of the two versions – and they are probably the main reasons for my positivity regarding the film.  The first is the addition of David Bowie’s Heroes as a major plot point. Despite the strangeness of none of the three main characters having heard the song before, any film that features Bowie so prominently is fine by me and the song is a perfect fit for the two major scenes it appears in. With this and The Smiths appearing once or twice, the soundtrack is one of my favourite things about The Perks.

The other difference is that the film has less crying in it and can go for at least five minutes at times without any tears. Which is a relief.

One problem that results from the straight adaptation is that the framing story becomes neglected. With the novel, the letters actually are the story. In the film, they appear infrequently as a voiceover and it’s easy to forget that they actually are letters, not a generic narration. It’s hard not to feel that the occasional hints to this device are a little pointless.

A strength of the film is the performances. Logan Lerman as Charlie is a promising young star, Emma Watson isn’t bad, and We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller is, well, actually really good. The direction, meanwhile, a few awkward shots aside – somehow the introduction of Emma Watson’s character felt badly shot in a way which drew me out of the story – is competent enough, if not remarkable.

The overall feeling I was left with was that the The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a more competent piece of work than the novel, albeit, due to the neglect of the unusual narrative style, less individual. It’s an enjoyable story, which deals with the issues that teenage people apparently face in a respectable, unpatronising manner, without stepping over the line which the novel skirted into oversentimentality. And it has David Bowie in.

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