"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is enjoying a perk that few movies get today in a crowded market.
While many new releases get kicked off screens before they have a chance to build an audience, the new teenage coming-of-age film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky has been blossoming at a steady pace since launching in just four theaters in late September.
Strong word of mouth has continued to propel "Perks" to more than $11 million in U.S. ticket sales. The film's backer and distributor Summit Entertainment has been slowly rolling out the picture across the country, where it is currently playing on about 740 screens. Its week over week performance has been holding strong.
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The movie, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson (in her first major role since the "Harry Potter" films), appears to be extending its reach beyond the fan base for Chbosky's 1999 book of the same name about an introverted teenager who falls in with a new group of friends.
"I think we've pushed through to a newer audience," said Lianne Halfon, who produced the $13-million film along with Russell Smith and John Malkovich through their company Mr. Mudd. "You can tell by the increase in the publishing that people are going out to read the book now who were never aware of it. We're hearing of people who buy the book before they see the movie."
The book has landed on the New York Times' bestseller list, sitting near the top of the children's paperback list for months. It has also placed consistently high on the Los Angeles Times' list of paperback fiction bestsellers as well as ranking high on various lists on Amazon.com. With more than 1.5 million copies in print, Chbosky said the book has been selling more each week since August.
"It has become a two-way street," said Chbosky, referring to the two-pronged benefit of having longtime fans of the book see the film and fans of the movie discover the book.
The film has also attracted a two-tiered audience of both teens and parents, no accident.
"It was by design," said the writer-director. "We wanted to make a movie that a young person, a teenager, could see and love because it respected and validated what they were going through," Chbosky said. "And at the same time it has appeal to their parents' sense of nostalgia, especially in terms of the time period.
"If a child and a parent could love the same story, even for different reasons," he added, "then maybe they could talk about some of the things the movie deals with. It was a Trojan horse to encourage families to talk to each other."
Midst the novel's young-adult themes, early 1990s setting and the film's teen-friendly PG-13 rating, Chbosky creates a tone not so much of teen angst as one of acceptance and forgiveness with a disarming, unsentimental sincerity.
"A lot of teen movies don't feel real to teens," added producer Smith. "They might feel real to whoever is making the movie, but not to teens. And this one, in the early screenings that we had, we knew that it felt really real to them. And because it feels authentic, parents want to see it too, to see what their kids are feeling."
Accompanying Lerman and Watson in the core cast are "We Need to Talk About Kevin" star Ezra Miller and "Parenthood's" Mae Whitman, rounded out by a strong supporting roster that includes Paul Rudd, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Nina Dobrev, Tom Savini, Melanie Lynskey and Joan Cusack.
The filmmakers believe that Chbosky bringing his own book to the big screen has paid off in terms of avoiding the old saw "the book is better than the movie."
"We were conscious of the fan base, but it seems there was never that question of one or the other," said Halfon. "People seem happy to have the two complementing each other. I don't think there's a competition there. That question of which do you prefer rarely comes up."
The talent involved in the movie are already reaping dividends. Watson was subsequently cast in Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" and Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" after footage from "Perks" was made available to those filmmakers while "Perks" was in postproduction. Lerman was cast in "Noah" as well.
Chbosky, who previously wrote the screen adaptation to the 2005 stage play "Rent," was co-creator of the television series "Jericho," and wrote and directed the 1995 feature "The Four Corners Of Nowhere," is planning another turn as "author-director." He is about two-thirds of the way through another novel that he plans to adapt for himself to direct, though he is also open to possibly directing one of the many scripts that have been sent to him as "Perks" has been on its climb.
Though the film has not been as explosive at the box office as another Mr. Mudd production, 2007's "Juno," the bloom is not entirely off "Wallflower" just yet. The filmmakers and studio are hoping the picture will maintain its hold in theaters and gain momentum as Hollywood's awards season gets underway.
"Our strategy all along for the movie was to use the movie to market the movie," said Nancy Kirkpatrick, president of worldwide marketing at Summit.
"We always looked at the platform release as sort of a long-term screening program to create word of mouth for the movie," Kirkpatrick added. "We always believed that the more people saw it, the more people would come."