The film ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is good, but the novel is even better


Knox Tamhankar

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ displays the power of friendship and reflection during the coming-of-age years.

Sarah Holzman, Perspectives Editor

The film The Perks of Being a Wallflower is frequently considered one of the many great modern coming-of-age stories. The novel, however, is even greater. 

The story follows Charlie, a high school freshman struggling to balance growing up, interacting with new and older people as well as his friendships.

Near the beginning of the novel, Charlie meets Patrick and Sam, two seniors who seem to know everything he does not know about life. Following their introduction to each other, Charlie’s life turns in a different direction- leading him on adventures and distress. 

Sam and Patrick integrated him into their lives and exposed him to an entirely different level of existence. However, because they were so close, it hit Charlie even harder when things went wrong. 

Their friendship was the foundation of the story but did not feel like the heart of it. Charlie’s perception of everything around him outshines all other aspects of the story. Without him as the main character, the story would have fallen short. 

Throughout the novel, Charlie’s view of life and the people around him was something I related to but never saw put into words. His desire to experience his life, while also living in fear was developed well, despite the story being structured in fragments. 

Charlie’s development throughout the novel was not linear, which could have been troublesome, but instead, it felt realistic. Charlie’s healing and growth from his trauma was complicated but it made sense. This fact does differ from the movie. 

As with all book-to-film adaptations, many parts of the story will fade. In this instance, Charlie’s character development and his relationship with his sister, Candace, was less observable and prevalent.

I first watched the film and saw Charlie as a whole character but once I read the novel I realized that many of his complexities were erased. It would be difficult to display Charlie’s every thought on a screen and the filmmakers did the best that they could have done with the story, but after reading the novel, Charlie’s character in the movie felt flat. 

At the very end of the novel, Charlie breaks down once he realizes that he had been repressing the trauma he experienced as a child for his entire life. In the novel, there were more signs and you could see Charlie’s thought process as he slowly began to realize what had happened to him. In the movie, it seems to hit him all at once. Neither portrayal is better than the other, they are just different. One comes as more of a shock, while the other feels like a slow realization. 

In a similar way, Charlie and Candace’s relationship felt cut short. In the novel, they had their good and bad moments but their relationship represented what it is like having a sibling.  In the movie, most of their scenes together were cut altogether, which makes the audience question why she was the first person he called when he was struggling. Their bond was barely shown. In the novel, it would have made sense for him to call her, as they were often there for each other in times of need. In the movie, most of their scenes together were not shown which makes it seem like they are not even remotely close.

This is the case with a lot of details of the movie: they feel watered down. Meanwhile, the novel feels holistic. The characters feel real and you understand their actions in the book. Yet, this  is not always the case in the film.

The main difference between the novel and the film is Charlie’s perspective. Due to the nature of the novel and how it is told through Charlie’s perspective in the act of journal entries, it is inevitable that the other characters would lack in some way, as we only get to see what Charlie chooses to write about them. In the movie we only see their actions, while in the novel, it shows how Charlie processes and analyzes the actions of the people around him.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great film and something that anyone who has struggled with growing up should watch at least once in their life. The novel, though, has everything included in the film and much more. The story was beautiful and heartbreaking. It questions the idea of what coming of age and growing up truly means. Most importantly, it shows the importance of cherishing the young and free moments of childhood while they are still your own.