When I heard that one of my favourite books was being adapted for the screen, I was doubtful. The marketing made it look like one of those quirky teen movies and I was unsure that Emma Watson was right for the role of Sam (it wasn’t long since she was Hermione Granger and I couldn’t picture her being an American party girl). However, the film is very well done and the actors are all wonderful. Stephen Chbosky himself wrote the screenplay and directed the film, which is obviously the best thing that can happen to a book-to-screen adaptation.
The story is about Charlie, his past traumas and how he tries to navigate high school and friendships. His life changes when he meets step-siblings Sam and Patrick. He becomes involved in their world of music, drugs, poetry and performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yet there’s something not right in his situation, as he has repressed memories – something to do with his adored Aunt Helen, who died in a car accident – he lost his best friend to suicide and he has spent time in hospital. The film follows the same story and I was interested to see an alternative opening scene (included on the DVD) in which we meet Charlie at the hospital instead. I can see that it would have been a very effective way to begin the film, but maybe too intense for our introduction to Charlie.
The book is set in 1991-2 but that’s not so important to the story, so the only hint that the film isn’t set in the last couple of decades is the teens’ lack of mobile phones and their preoccupation with mixtapes. Some of the more adult content is left out of the film and the language is toned down a little. Music is very important in the book and this is of course reflected in the film, but as far as I can tell, aside from ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths, the songs on the soundtrack are different to those mentioned in the book. I think they are a bit more mainstream. I loved the choice of ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie as the film’s closing song, as it leaves us on an upbeat note, which the suicide ballad ‘Asleep’ certainly wouldn’t do. Anyone who’s a fan of the book will know about the poem which in some ways is a central pillar of the story. The poem doesn’t appear in the film, but I don’t have strong feelings as to whether it should have been included. I’m sure that Chbosky had his reasons.
In summary, the film captures the book’s tone very well and includes a lot of the same events and dialogue. If we consider it a teen movie then it’s quite edgy, but if you want the whole experience then you need to read the book.