The complaint always seems to be that when a book is made into a film, it never quite captures the magic of the words on the page, whether things are changed, lost for time, or what have you. But when the author just so happens to be the one to write the script and then direct the film, odds are the magic will remain.
As someone who hasn’t read Stephen Chbosky’s book (yet) I can’t judge from that perspective, but from what I overheard from people coming out of the theater who have the consensus seemed to be that this transition from page to screen was done perfectly. As a film on its own, I can say that I completely agree with that word choice. Sure there were a few problems in terms of pegging down when exactly the time period falls, but the story is universal enough that the year doesn’t really matter.
What does matter are the characters. The basic premise is that of many high school dramas: there is an outcast who hopes to not have to go the four years of high school alone, a family that doesn’t quite understand what their son is going through even though they try, a girl to crush on, a boy dealing with his sexual orientation in a judgmental environment, etc. Transpiring over the course of his freshman year, we come into the story through the narration of Charlie as he writes a letter to no one in particular, just the imagined “friend” who is out there waiting to hear from him. At this moment he doesn’t actually have any real friends, and it’s not entirely discernible why at first other than having the demeanor of a quieter person. He’s presented as socially awkward in the script and acting of Logan Lerman’s speech, mannerisms and expressions, and keeps up this front as he endearingly works his way into a group of others that don’t fit the definition of popular, but even during his good times we see through intercut memories that he is haunted by events of his past.
As he pushes these thoughts from his mind, he is free to enjoy the newfound friendship from these lively kids that all have suppressed pain of their own, including Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as the stepsiblings that initially let Charlie into the circle. Yet even as the narrator, Charlie is able to hide all he is dealing with internally from us, and it will take a deeper understanding of these past events that slowly piece together to bring a whole new perspective to the character. This deeper understanding also brings an increasing level of foreboding eeriness of the other shoe about to drop as more of the story bubbles up from under the surface even as everything continues on with a glowing smile, making for a story that is as equally heartbreaking as it is heartwarming when it does. No matter your past, it will be impossible not to connect to Charlie on some level because he is such a sympathetic character that his story bores deep inside of you, and it will reside there long after you leave the theater.
Final Grade: A-