I read this book several years ago and, despite not loving the ending, still wanted to see the movie. My issues with the book and, subsequently, the 2012 movie can’t really be explained without spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Here’s what I loved about the book and what, to a certain extent, the movie gets right. For the majority of it, Charlie is the “every teen.” He’s a little bit awkward, a little bit anxious, he feels like he’s different and that there’s something wrong with him, but he doesn’t know why. He’s very relatable and even in my 30s I was surprised to find myself in wonder that I wasn’t the only one with the doubts and worries and questions that Charlie had. I’m not sure the movie gets this across quite as well as the book, but you do see Charlie crying for no apparent reason or going into a blackout rage in defense of his friends and you do get the same sense that Charlie is not quite in control of his emotions and doesn’t know what to do about it. I found this to the best part of the story, this presentation of Charlie as someone who doesn’t exactly know who he is. Who among us did at that age? Who among us truly does now?
I don’t want to say this, but the rest of movie came off as rather hokey to me. I don’t remember getting this impression from the book, but Charlie’s life and his friends seemed to be more of a montage of CW-worthy moments devoid of any deep emotion. Homecoming, Christmas, Sadie Hawkins…it all felt staged. Perhaps this is because this was not my high school experience (I lived 20 miles away from my high school and rarely saw my friends outside of class) and perhaps this is because I can’t help but compare it to the book (but I can’t not do that), but what I found to be surprisingly relatable on the page left me cringing on the screen.
The movie’s end feels just as tacked on as it does in the book. In a several flashes of Charlie’s memory we come to learn what it is that’s happened to him and why he is the way he is. I’m not sure this was particularly well-done in the movie, but it’s hard for me to judge since I already knew what the outcome would be. This, however, is what I truly didn’t like about the book and still didn’t like in the movie. I don’t see why there has to be a reason for Charlie’s weirdness. To tie his personality quirks to a life-altering event takes him from being a person just like me to someone who is definitively not me. I could get behind this if the story spent more time exploring the event. I don’t need all of my characters to be like me, but the beauty of Charlie is that he, at first, could have been any of us. Once the event is revealed, that’s no longer the case.
I wanted to like this movie, at least as much as I love the book up until the end. I may just be too old for it at this point, but I believe that the best movies speak to you at any age. This one does not.