Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower poster

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a 2012 American coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky and stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. The movie takes place in 1992 and starts with the main character Charlie,  played by Logan Lerman, writing a letter to an unknown person because they seem like a good person and someone who won’t think Charlie is weird, unlike others his age. Charlie is about to go into his first year of high school, but because of his depression, anxiety, and the recent suicide of his only friend, Charlie thinks he won’t be able to make any friends. On the first day of school, the only “friend” Charlie makes is his English teacher Bill, who becomes a mentor and confidant for him throughout the movie. At the first home football game of the school year, Charlie ends up sitting with seniors Patrick and Sam, who are step-brother and sister. Meeting Patrick and Sam set the tone for the rest of Charlie’s freshmen year, in which Charlie learns about himself, the people in his life, and what really happened in his past. This film is based on the 1999 book of the same name and was also written by Stephen Chbosky. Charlie is the main character and narrator of both the movie and the book, he has many mental health issues that stem from him being molested by his aunt as a child and other traumatic experiences throughout his life. It is important to note that the whole book is told in an epistolary form, with all letters Charlie writes recounting the things that have recently happened to him. The movie and the book are incredibly alike, even more than Room from my last post, in that all the characters are the same and the order of events is mostly consistent with the story’s original medium. That being said, of course, like all adaptations there are things that have to be taken out or changed to fit with the medium of film and it’s time constraints. 

One relationship that wasn’t as focal to the film as it was in the book was that of Charlie and his sister Candace, played by Nina Dobrev. In the book, the reader got to read about more events with the siblings, whereas the film focuses on the relationship between Charlie, Sam, and Patrick, a choice which was logical given the story and time constraints. The limited focus on Charlie and Candace’s relationship makes sense for the film as Candace is not one of the main characters, but in the book, readers are able to see how Candace grows as a character and a sister. Not long into the story, Charlie writes in one of his letters about seeing Candace’s boyfriend hit her, which is something she later asks Charlie not to tell their parents. He accidentally tells his English teacher, Bill, who calls Charlie’s parents and tells them about the incident. This leads to Candace being forbidden to see her boyfriend, as well as Candace holding a grudge against Charlie for several months. Charlie also tells several stories in his letters where his sister had called him a pervert for situations beyond his control. The first is when he was in middle school and witnessed an older boy force a girl to give him a blow job, this event happened at a party in Charlie’s house and Candace walked in on it. The second time, was when Charlie found Candace and her boyfriend in their basement having sex and couldn’t look away. Because of these two events Candace thinks her brother is a freak who peeps on people having sex, not knowing he was a victim of sexual abuse when he was younger which can cause a fascination or fear regarding sexual acts. Eventually, in the books, Candace realizes how much Charlie cares for her, trusting him to drive her to get an abortion and not tell their parents.


 The relationship in a lot of ways makes Candace out to be not the greatest sister, but over the course of the book, through Charlie’s letters, the reader sees Candace mature and realize just how important Charlie is to her. In the film, Candace does get hit by her boyfriend and Charlie sees it, though their parents never find out. I think they included this scene in the movie because it was something important that Charlie had to see. This eventually leads him to question why the people around him could choose to stay in bad relationships, something that is a big theme throughout both the book and the movie. Besides this scene and when Charlie is in the hospital, film viewers get very few scenes between these characters compared to the book. Several scenes from the book with Charlie and Candace, like the abortion, were actually filmed but because of time they were cut. As a book fan, I was kind of disappointed, but the filmmakers did release the deleted scenes, so if anyone is looking they are on Youtube. The lack of scenes between Charlie and his sister didn’t take away anything from the movie, it just added a great element to the book and helped Charlie’s character development even more. But the deleted scenes are great so go check them out!

In the book we are never actually with Charlie when things happen to him, it is always after the fact and his reflections on what happened. Thinking about this, that means everything is coming from Charlie’s perspective, which makes the reader ask themselves if he is a reliable narrator, especially when looking at his mental health and lack of social skills. It is because of these things though, I would argue that Charlie is an extremely reliable narrator, telling his reader everything exactly as it happened, or at least what he can remember. Even if he doesn’t completely understand something he still tells the person he is writing the letter to everything, and in the many ways the reader becomes the person Charlie is writing his letters to. By the reader becoming the person Charlie writes to, you are allowed to know things about his past; an example of this is a memory that Charlie has from back in middle school when his brother threw a party at their house. While he was in his room a couple came in wanting to have sex, but when the girl sees Charlie she tries to stop the guy she is with. The boy then chooses to not listen to the girl when she says no and makes her give him oral sex. Charlie didn’t understand that the high school boy date-raped the girl when it was happening, but when he talked about it with Sam and Patrick they helped him realize what he couldn’t comprehend as a child. In Charlie’s letter, it is like the reader is going on the discovery with him because he writes his memories of the actual event and his epiphany in an order that makes it seem like these things are happening in that specific moment. This realization about the rape wasn’t in the film, but I chose to reference it because of the way it highlights how Charlie writes and his openness as a narrator. 

 The reader knows pretty much every aspect of Charlie’s life, and within a few days of any major event, the reader knows about it. An example of this happens in both mediums main trio, Charlie, Patrick, and Sam, go to a party and they officially become friends. In the movie we see all this as it is happening to Charlie, so the viewer sees how nervous Charlie is about being socially awkward and saying something wrong. Then being able to see how relieved he is when Sam and Patrick accept him, even after finding out that Charlie’s only friend had commited suicide. Whereas in the book, the reader can feel Charlie’s astonishment that Patrick and Sam even wanted him to come with them to the party, from the letter he is writing. By the way Charlie writes about his experience the reader can tell just how important this is to him, as Charlie is the type of person that needs deep connection with people which he wasn’t getting before meeting his friends. When he doesn’t have this connection later on in the book, Charlie’s writing shows his depression and anxiety more, something that also happens in the movie; but film viewers also get the extra experience of seeing how the character acts in a sadder and more confused emotional state. This intense look into the protagonist’s mind, which is deeply flawed and damaged, makes the reader very uncomfortable, but it also makes it so they are that much more invested in Charlie. This look into Charlie’s psyche is something the movie also does to some extent, but whenever Lerman’s Charlie starts to narrate his letters the viewer is taken back in time to the actual event to see how it turned out. Like I mentioned before, the timelines of the two stories are incredibly similar because these two mediums are almost like supplementary parts of each other. If you were to read one chapter of the book, which is one letter, you could read Charlie’s perspective of the past event, and then go watch the corresponding movie scene to see what actually happened. Though I have only really done this with a few parts of the book and movie, it would definitely be an interesting experiment.

I first read this book on the way home from a choir camp the summer before eighth grade. Yes, I know I’m a nerd, why do you think I write a book and film blog? Anyway, the drive home was about four hours, so I got through most of the book in that car ride and it was like feeling my universe expand. It was a book that validated all the weird feelings I was having and opened my mind to new ideas. Some of it was shocking and at the time I didn’t fully comprehend the nuisances of everything going on in the book, like the boy at the party forcing himself on his girlfriend. Then again I was 13 years old and there were still many things that I had never really thought about, but the explicit nature of the book forced me to reflect on the incidents of drug use, abuse, and rape. It was only a few months after this that the movie came out in theaters and I went to see it immediately. I had the same reaction to watching the movie as I did reading the book and both quickly got put on my list of all-time favorites. Though the movie is rated PG-13 the book would most definitely be rated R, which means I was probably too young to read it the first time but even reading it again at 21 it still surprises me. I can not recommend both the film and the book enough, both for the actual story and Stephen Chbosky’s handling of explicit themes. Taking a break from adaptions with super heavy topics, my next blog post will be looking at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo’s bio:

Jo Spangler
Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.


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