In the world of modern literature, few coming-of-age stories are as beloved as Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. Published in 1999 by MTV, Perks offers a touching and real-life look at a troubled high school freshman named Charlie and the friends that take him under their wing. Over the course of the novel, Charlie navigates his way through school, love interests, and the family life he feels disconnected from. In between it all, Chbosky peppers his story with unlikely heroes, smart pop culture references, and enough poignant musical moments to make the story an obvious addition to the Gen Y literary canon.
In September of last year, Chbosky also unveiled Perks of Being a Wallflower the film, an equally heartfelt and stunning affair starring Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as love interest Sam, and Ezra Miller as the openly gay Patrick. To stay true to the novel, and to Chbosky’s personal relationship with the characters, the author chose to adapt the screenplay and direct the film himself, a feat only attempted by one other author in history. This Friday, Chbosky appears at Isla Vista Theater for a screening and post-film Q&A of Perks of Being a Wallflower, presented by Magic Lantern. Below, we chat with Chbosky about the book, the characters, and the music behind Perks.
How much of Perks was based off of your own personal story? I would say the book and movie are very personal, but they’re not 100-percent autobiographical.
What kind of role did music play for you growing up? Music is a vital part of my life, and it has been since I was a kid. It helped me find my identity as a person, it helped me find my identity as an artist, and it helped me get in touch with emotions that I didn’t know I had.
Was there a specific friend that turned you on to a lot of influential bands? I had many friends who turned me on to different bands and songs. The girl that introduced The Smiths song “Asleep” to me was an important musical influence that I met in college. From there it’s been an ongoing journey of different bands at different times introducing bands and songs to me. Now what’s wonderful is all of these young fans, a lot of whom were not born when I originally published the book, are now sending me mixtapes and playlists. I’m getting a whole new generation’s favorite music.
Can you tell me a bit about the process behind adapting the novel for the screen? Well, I took a lot of time away from it because I needed the distance, just because it was such a personal story and in order to see it clearly I needed to step away. Once I felt that I had the skills I needed to have to do a proper adaptation, I felt like I was ready. Ultimately how it works was just that; it was getting enough distance to be able to see it things clearly, but not so much distance that I could no longer relate to it. Time was my best friend.
What was the biggest challenge in moving the book to the big screen? I had to find a way to focus the story to emphasize the friendships and the family of friends. The book deals with Charlie’s extended family a great deal, it deals with his parents, his aunt, so I still needed the family presence, but I didn’t have all the time in the world to do it. So, I had to find ways to be very efficient.
What was the casting process like? That was one of the most gratifying parts of the process because I knew the characters as well as I did I knew what I was looking for. Because of that, I was always waiting for the moment that went “click.” When Ezra Miller gave his reading, I knew he was Patrick; when Logan gave his audition, I knew he was Charlie. It was fantastic. Also, I love actors and I love the art form, so it was a great deal of fun for me to be able to share the characters with the actors. I wasn’t a dictator on this film; I was a collaborator, and I loved seeing what Emma, Ezra, and Logan brought.
The film has been getting some really positive feedback, Charlie’s character specifically. People’s response to Charlie has been inspiring. Lots of people, of different ages and different genders, they relate to Charlie — even if they themselves are not a wallflower, even if they’re not shy, they relate to his innocence, or they relate to his passion, or they relate to his curiosity. He’s easily the most beloved character I’ve ever created.
How has the LGBT community reacted to your depiction of Patrick? It’s been nothing but positive, from the community specifically, but every audience member recognizes in Patrick that we’ve created a gay hero who is in no way a victim. He accepts himself, he’s the coolest kid in the school, he’s the coolest kid in the story; he’s the least taunted. Normally in movies, the gay kid is the haunted one, or he’s the victim—we all know the clichés, and we did the exact opposite, and the response has been fantastic.
Do you ever thing about Perks being a jumping-off point for more films about Charlie, Patrick, and Sam? I won’t be writing about Charlie’s sophomore year, I’ll tell you that. As lucrative as that would probably be, I will never do that. However, I do love the characters, and I do love Charlie, so I can see myself writing about their lives many years from now, in the way that John Updike did with the Rabbit series or François Truffaut did with his film series beginning with The 400 Blows. I could see revisiting them every 10 years.
What’s next? I’m writing my second novel now, and I’ll adapt that. That’s the thing I want to do: write novels and then make either movies or television shows out of them. Honestly, this is my dream come true. I was a journeyman screenwriter for many years, and I finally feel like I found my destiny. … Life is awesome.
Perks of Being a Wallflower screens at Isla Vista Theater on Friday, January 11, at 7 and 10:15 p.m. Writer/director Stephen Chbosky will appear for a post-film Q&A following the 7 p.m. screening. For more info, visit facebook.com/magiclanternfilmsiv.