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'Wallflower' Film Puts Adolescence On Screen


Now, from the small screen to the big one, and the story of a teenage boy about to begin his freshman year of high school.


WERTHEIMER: That's Charlie played by Logan Lerman. He's a smart, shy, socially awkward kid at the center of a new film, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." The movie is based on the novel of the same name and it tackles the very grown-up issues that some young adults experience; newly discovered sexuality, family tension, mental illness, and trouble with drugs and alcohol.

The book was written by Stephen Chbosky and he also directed the film. He joins us from our studios at NPR West. Welcome.

STEPHEN CHBOSKY: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this story takes place in 1991 in Pittsburgh. It could be taking place today except no cell phones, no Facebook, no modern conveniences of that sort.


CHBOSKY: You know, I really wanted to capture with the movie that last moment before the Internet and the cell phone changed communication, not adolescence but communication.


CHBOSKY: I just found that time to be a little simpler, I think, for young people, when private things could be truly private before we broadcast everything. The secrets that we kept back then I feel like they had a little more power.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Charlie meets a boy named Patrick in shop class. Patrick is a senior, he's a jokester. He's played by Ezra Miller. He makes Charlie laugh on a scary school day and the two hang out together at a Friday football game.



WERTHEIMER: That's when our little hero meets the cute girl, Sam. Sam is also a senior. She's Patrick's stepsister, played by the gorgeous Emma Watson, and they adopt Charlie. Why?

CHBOSKY: I think they recognize in Charlie somebody that was like them a few years back. You know, Patrick and Sam, they're very self-assured people but they each have a past. And I think that when they see how lonely this kid is, that they just - I don't know, he breaks their heart a little bit and they just decide to take him almost like as the mascot, you know, for while. But then they become great friends.


WERTHEIMER: Well, now that is obviously a high point for Charlie.

CHBOSKY: Yet, you know, I love that scene. It's one of my favorite scenes in the movie and the kids did it so well. 'Cause to me, there's nothing like that first moment, especially when you're young, when you realize that there are people in this world that will accept you for being exactly who you are.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the story dives into death and cruelty and violence in high school, mental illness. This is not a sunny look at the happiest days of your lives.

CHBOSKY: I disagree with you. I think it's a realistic look at it. It doesn't gloss over some of the things that kids have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But, at the same time, Charlie has his first kiss and there is that first crush, and there is that perfect high school dance and the perfect drive. It's about all aspects of growing up. I don't find it bleak at all. I find it cathartic.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the book and the film used Charlie's letters to his friend to explore his thoughts and his responses to situations. And he types the letters on a typewriter. Do you have any - I mean, who did you think the dear friend was?

CHBOSKY: Well, you know, I'll say two things about it. The first one is I have an answer and I'm happy to give it, except there have been 12 really great theories and I don't want to take 11 of them away.


CHBOSKY: You know? What I will say though is that the idea of the anonymous letter came from when I was a senior in high school, and I knew I wanted to study film, and I went to visit all the schools. And on the day that I visited USC, out here in Los Angeles, was a day that a man named Stewart Stern was giving a seminar to the students. And Stewart wrote the screenplay for "Rebel Without A Cause."

I'm 17 years old. I am from Pittsburgh. I don't know anybody and I'm sitting in front of a man who's telling stories about how he met James Dean, and how he used to travel with Marlon Brando, and how Paul Newman was his best friend. And I was so moved by this man that I decided I would have to go to this school, if he was there.

And when I arrived at school, he had suffered - soon thereafter - a massive heart attack. And I wrote him a letter just to let him know that he had changed my life and how grateful I was to him. But I didn't sign my name because I didn't want him to think I was just trying to get an agent or something like that. And it took him a year and a half to find me and figure out that it was me.

And he's been my hero and mentor ever since. And he's the first person who ever read the screenplay for "Perks." And I was able to show him the movie two weeks ago, and share a stage with them and do a Q&A. It was like one of the greatest moments I've ever had. So that was where the anonymous letter began.

WERTHEIMER: That's a lovely story. We were told - or I was told - by some of the younger people who work here that they remember passing the book around. That it was perhaps too controversial to be part of the curriculum at their schools.


CHBOSKY: In some places, yes.

WERTHEIMER: But they just handed it around and they all knew about it. Is that still true?

CHBOSKY: It's still true. I hear about that all the time, you know. And there are some places where it won't be allowed into the schools and so the kids take it on themselves. But in terms of the psychological or some of the tougher emotional things that kids go through, I know it's helped a lot of people.

And what I wanted to give through the book, through the movie, and through certain lines like: We accept the love we think we deserve, I wanted to give people a little blueprint about how you can face these things that trouble you. And how you can make friends and have a great life.

WERTHEIMER: Stephen Chbosky is the writer and director of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Thank you very much for joining us.

CHBOSKY: Thank you.


WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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