The Perks of Being a Wallflower:: It’s not what you’d think…

Some of you may have read the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky or at least may have heard of it once the movie was announced.  Here is a preview of the film:

The book is written like a diary, or more accurately letters to a stranger, from the point of view of the main character, Charlie.  After reading it, I was very curious to see how they were going to adapt it into an interesting movie, because I just couldn’t picture it.  Some part of the book had a special tone, because they were witnessed by a disconnected character who doesn’t always “get” what is going on.  That makes watching the same event take place have a distinctly different feel than having it explained to you by someone who is struggling to understand it.  However,  one of my favorite novel to screen adaptations was written as a diary, The Color Purple, so I knew an adept writer could do it.

Stephen Chbosky himself not only did the screenplay adaptation, but he also directed the film, which is what I’m going to attribute it’s successful transformation from excellent book to excellent movie.  The music mentioned in the book is crucial to establish tone and character in the movie in  a way that only the writer and fans of the book would get.

The story is about Charlie (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief) who is just starting high school.  He is very emotional and sensitive and loveable from the first moment the audience meets him.  In the book we learn in the first few pages that his friend, Michael, killed himself while they were in Jr. High without leaving a note.  In the movie this comes out a little later, but the choice to change it works for the story and is necessary in the way that the structure of film is different from a novel.

Charlie begins to come out of his shell a little when he meets an unlikely pair of friends, Patrick (Ezra Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Sam (Emma Watson, All of the Harry Potter films) who are step siblings.  Patrick and Sam are both seniors who don’t seem to mind that Charlie is a freshman.  They all connect right away sensing the outsider in each other.

Charlie also has a special English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd, The 40-Year-old Virgin) who can tell right away that Charlie is special, he sees what Sam and Patrick see, that Charlie is an observer who sees in others what they don’t see in themselves.  He begins to give Charlie additional books outside of class and has Charlie write essays on them.

Sam and Patrick introduce Charlie to many new people, drugs, The Rocky Horror Picture show, new music and acceptance.  Although Charlie participates to a degree, he is still somewhat of an outsider who longs to know why he feels so incapable of being like everyone else.  He is like everyone else in the way that he falls in love with Sam, but can’t seem to tell her.  In the book she point blank tells him to not think of her “that way”, but in the movie it’s unspoken and used to add to his outsider feeling.

It is a well told, very personal story that leaves you wondering how much of it may have happened to Chbosky.  He seems to intimately get some things that could only be understood by experience and even then, by only a very brilliant person.  It endears him to me right away, because either he is like Charlie, or he is such a great writer that he isn’t and created him perfectly.  Either way, it is a beautiful piece of writing and film making.

After reading the book I was, as I always am, very picky about the casting.  Charlie needed to be earnest, Patrick needed to be charismatic and Sam needed to be alluring yet broken.  Everyone was spot on, but Ezra Miller as Patrick was even better than I had imagined him.  Miller has a huge career ahead of him.  He’s deep and dark, handsome and odd and really commits to his work.  Emma Watson and Logan Lerman were excellent too.  Emma’s American accent didn’t slip once and Logan really seemed 15, even though he’s 20.

Paul Rudd was wonderfully kind and understated as Mr. Anderson and it made me sad that they left out some of the other scene’s with Mr. Anderson.  I really enjoy Rudd, especially in the roles that you get to see the genuinely caring person that he really is, instead of just the goofball that also genuinely him.

Even through their roles are small, Dylan McDermont (American Horror Story) as the father and Kate Walsh (Private Practice) as the mother are well acted.  When someone truly upsetting comes to light about Charlie, the fatherly sadness in McDermont’s eyes was really tender and perfect.

Just like the book, the movie is touching, funny and inspiring.  It really captures what being a young, confused, outsider feels like.  Chbosky perfectly recreated that feeling that you have when you hear a song you’ve never heard before that speaks to your soul.  It’s that song that when you find out another person loves it too, you immediately know that you are kindred spirits.

If you like the movie, I really recommend reading the book. Because it’s written like Charlie’s diary, it’s a very fast read.  Chbosky had to leave out some parts for time that I think really flesh out parts of the story.  It’s really well written and gives a lot more back story about Charlie’s Aunt Helen, who is crucial to the end of the story.  It has some beautiful prose, including the line from the movie, “and in that moment we felt infinite”.

The movie easily proves what many of the adults know, that being cool is actually one of the worst things that can happen to you in high school.  Being an outsider may be painful, but it builds the best character and allows you to really be you.  Which as it turns out, are some of the actual “perks” of being a wallflower.

Sleepwalk With Me:: Don’t Mind If I Do!

I am an NPR nerd, and frankly, proud of it.  I love me some Fresh Air, Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  But I really, really, REALLY love This American Life.  I am soothed by the playful voice of host, Ira Glass, who both asks the tough questions and laughs like a goofy little kid.  I have listened to hours of episodes while playing solitaire (the solitaire is to give the illusion that I am actually doing something rather than just listening to story after story).  One of my favorite episodes is called, “Fear of Sleep”.  In it, comedian Mike Birbiglia  tells a story about a sleepwalking disorder that he has called R.E.M. Behavior disorder which causes him to act out his dreams.  I’ve listened to this episode at least five times, one of which was next to my husband, with me constantly saying, “oh this next part is really funny”, which I do a lot and he hates.

When I heard that this story was being made into a movie, called Sleepwalk With Me, I was excited and concerned.  I was pretty sure that I would be disappointed as I usually am by adapted material (except with The Color Purple, that was spot on.)  Ira Glass produced the film and Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and stars in it.  Since the first time I heard the story, I have become a screenwriter and a film festival movie screener.  I know how hard it is to make a movie work, especially when it’s your first.  So many tiny things can go wrong; the casting could be wrong, the music not quite right, the pacing too slow, or about 9,000 other things.  But Mike and Ira are smart guys and even though this isn’t their first rodeo, it’s kinda their first rodeo.

I was pleasantly surprised.  The parts that I thought wouldn’t translate to film, didn’t, so they modified how they told that part of the story.  They had Mike narrate, so it had the same storytelling feel of the original piece.  They added in the back story and what was happening in Mike’s life during that time in greater detail.  He had just moved in with his long time girlfriend and his comedy career was having a hard time getting off the ground.  In the movie his sleep disorder starting happening when the pressure to marry his girlfriend is intensified by his younger sister’s engagement.

In the movie, Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) works in a comedy club as a bartender who occasionally gets to do five minutes of material, and bombs.  His girlfriend is played brilliantly by Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), who has just the right amount of sweetness and sadness to convey the unspoken state of their relationship.  Matt’s mother is played by Carol Kane (The Princess Bride), who always has “one more thing”, which is never worth pointing out; “One more thing, I got the cake on the internet!”  Matt’s dad is played by James Rebhorn (aka “Beth’s Dad” from Guiding Light, as my husband always calls him).  Throughout the movie, he is always angry and always funny.

It was well paced, the right length, funny, touching and perfect.  I loved it.  In fact I laughed so hard, I think I need to see it again because I’m sure I missed something.  I couldn’t be happier for Mike and Ira, they really hit this one out of the park.