Adapting a beloved, obsessed-over novel is never easy, but it’s infinitely interesting when the person doing the adapting is also the author of that beloved, obsessed-over novel. That was the case for September’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and thanks to a quick trip to Pittsburgh, where Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller were filming the flick, Hollywood.com got a look at what that process looks like.
It was a muggy, overcast Pittsburgh day when myself and a group of journalists piled into a van and made our way to Peters Township High School, where Watson, Lerman, Miller, Mae Whitman, Nina Dobrev, Dylan McDermott, and Kate Walsh were filming their characters’ high school graduation under the watchful eye of writer/director Stephen Chbosky. From the sound of Watson’s surprisingly accurate American accent peeping through our headphones when filming began, to the fake snow puddled around the wheels of a school bus for another scene, the high school was all movie set. But from the crowds of local teens set up as extras, the proliferation of red and white balloons all over the football stadium, and a general air of excitement, Peters Township was all high school. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect — after all, Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs are where Chbosky grew up and where his novel takes place.
In case you were not a teen in 1999, it might be news to you that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a life-affecting book for many of its stalwart fans. It follows the story of a young, socially-challenged teenager named Charlie (Lerman, in the film) and is told through a series of his letters. After enduring the aftermath of his friend Michael’s suicide, Charlie seeks refuge with two seniors, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller). The candidly mature book is sure to beget a similarly dark film that fully explores Charlie’s introvert nature, variant issues regarding sexuality, and the very foundations of friendship itself, but what fans are really worried about is how closely Perks will resemble the book they all loved. While my experience of the set was largely joyous, as the scene at hand was filled with all the jubilance that goes with a graduation, the actors and director assured us that the film doesn’t stray far from its darker, contemplative roots.
It was at this school, hand-picked by Chbosky and nestled among rolling green hills, where we learned a few valuable lessons about the film.
1. The movie is not an exact translation of the book, but it is faithful.
For fans who worry that the film won’t match up their expectations, we offer Chbosky’s original intentions for the story: “I’ve wanted to make this movie—I first thought of the title of the movie twenty years ago this fall. The title of the book and movie. And so, I always felt it would probably be both,” he said in the library of Peters Township High. In fact, Chbosky says there are very few changes from the book, aside from the aspect of telling the story through letters only.
Charlie’s social awkwardness is a reason many young readers identified so greatly with the book, and luckily for them, Lerman did too. “I guess I wasn’t as naïve as him, but I definitely had the morals that he has … A lot of the experiences, or a lot of the situations in the script, have actually happened to me in life, so I just connected with him,” said the actor. 8. Ezra Miller is very proud of his beloved character. Miller’s character Patrick is iconic for many readers in that he is openly gay and struggling with the close-minded world’s reaction to something that’s so inherently a part of his identity. Still, Miller insists that Patrick may identify himself as gay, but it doesn’t define him. “I remember reading Patrick and realizing, ‘Oh no, this character has no basis in being gay,’” he said. “He is a fully-formed being, and that is an aspect of him. As it is an aspect with us all (our sexuality). It’s not a defining quality. It’s just one element,” Miller added. 9. We wish we were in this movie. Watch any preview or scene from Perks and it’s obvious the actors were having a great time working together. But for them, it was more than that. They were taking part in something that Chbosky has been building up to since he was a teenager. And that element really made the film an incredible experience for the young actors, especially Watson. “[Stephen] really cared about all of us having a good time. He said that at the beginning: ‘I want you to have the summer of your lives.’ And I absolutely did,” she said, with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits theaters Sept. 21 in limited release. Will you be seeing it? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler