It’s a little unusual for an actor to pitch a film to film producers, but so strong was Emma Watson’s desire to see one of her favourite books adapted to the screen she did just that (she says so in her Rookie Mag interview with fellow luminary, Tavi Gevinson).
I have immense, infinite respect for Watson and Gevinson (and Natalie Portman, while I’m mentioning outstandingly talented creative females who also carry themselves and their social, cultural, environmental, and political awareness and empathy with aplomb). They’re talented but grounded, inspiring but inspired by others, pursuing projects because they’re interested in them, curious about the world, and generous in their praise of others and their work.
So when Watson went so far as to campaign to get The Perks of Being a Wallflower up, I figured the book and film were worth checking out. I missed The Perks of Being a Wallflower both when it first appeared as a bestselling book and when it later, thanks in part to Watson, made it to cinemas. But it was on the peripheries of my awareness and something I always figured I’d need to explore.
That time came last night when, laid up by my first ever bona fide back injury (I blame getting old and walking oddly due to a recently operated on knee) and using it as a not-entirely-ofay excuse to not meet my encroaching mountain of deadlines, I decided now was as good a time as ever to embark on it.
I did what I normally never do: started with the movie. Not being able to compare the film to the book, I’ll likely attract your book-was-better-than-the-film ire, but I will say that, whatever its flaws or foibles, I enjoyed the film rather much.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is undoubtedly a book slash* film for high school students, especially those grappling with the complexities of finding their way in the wider world. But it’s also a book slash film for writers.
The protagonist, Charlie (Logan Lerman), is a sensitive, creative teen crippled by excruciating anxiety and who aspires to be a writer. He opens the film and spends much of the narratorial exposition writing, first by hand and later by typewriter (and yes, the typewriter unveiling was, for typewriter obsessives such as me, utterly and entirely thrilling).
Charlie has a Dead Poets Society-calibre English teacher (played by Ben Affleck) who identifies his writing interest and talent and gently encourages him. He recommends books for Charlie to read, loaning and even at one stage giving him his original copies.
These include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Walden, and On the Road. Charlie himself later gifts his much-loved book collection to Sam (Emma Watson), the girl with whom he’s hopelessly in love. It’s heartfelt, soul-exposing stuff.
Legend has it (and when I say ‘legend’, I mean ‘Wikipedia’) that Stephen Chbosky was trying to write a very different kind of book when the phrase ‘I guess that’s just one of the perks of being a wallflower’ popped, muse-led-like, into his brain. It sent him down a semi-autobiographical writing path to create an epistolary novel (one written as a series of documents such as diary entries and newspaper articles—thanks again for that gem, Wikipedia) for which I think we’re all rather grateful.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s popularity grew just the way every author hopes it to: via word of mouth. It also attracted the guaranteed-to-make-you-an-elicit-bestseller attention of the Christian movement, which was concerned by the sexual themes and portrayals of drug use. If I ever manage to publish a book of my own, I sincerely hope Family First, the Anti-Vaccination Network, or organisations of their similarly vocal and misguided ilk try to get it banned.
There’s a bunch of book-related trivia contained within The Perks of Being a Wallflower, not least that Charles Dickens was the author who created both the paperback book and the serial. And I found myself smiling a lot throughout the film (I found myself crying, too. But that’s not the focus of this blog), and never more so than at its end when Affleck’s English teacher character asks the class who’ll be reading for pleasure over the holidays.
That’s a big question to ask a teenager and an even bigger one for them to answer in the company of their peers. It’s one that made me proud as a nerdy writer who was a nerdy, book-loving reader inspired and encouraged by some fantastic English teachers along the way. Here’s hoping The Perks of Being a Wallflower—both the book and the film—continues to inspire a few more future and current writers.
*As a side note, I’m loving this analysis of the new ways we’re using ‘slash’—I’ve been doing it for a while, but hadn’t realised I was part of a phenomenon.