Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

There was a scene in ‘Charlie Bartlett’ that struck a bit of a chord in me that I thought was very funny. Charlie was trying out for a play and decided to do a monologue about a girl experiencing her first period, and while our female of interest in this film who is casting this play was in stitches, her casting partner wasn’t even slightly amused. I had warned the executive producer of my television show that roughly one out of every four people finds me somewhat amusing, with the other two not getting me at all and that fourth person absolutely hating my ass for no earthly reason. Unlike Charlie though, being as how I’m neither small nor frail, that fourth person can’t do much about that feeling because I’ll snap that guys neck like a twig. Not that I’d be even remotely interested in doing something like that because I haven’t had to actually drop a fool since I was sixteen, but if necessary… Regardless, that was just something I thought about while watching this movie which I found a completely delightful little film filled with humor and angst ridden suburban white kids. Interesting. While attempting to type the word ‘filled’ I accidentally shifted my right hand one key to right. You do that and see what happens. And yes I am quite juvenile.

Charlie (Anton Yelchin) just wants what every high school kid wants and that’s to be popular. Unfortunately, the completely genial Charlie’s pursuit of this goal has gotten him kicked out of yet another exclusive boarding school, leaving his well medicated mother Marilyn (Hope Davis) no choice but to enroll Charlie at the nearby public school. Ew. Charlie’s the kind of kid who tries to make the best out of any situation, and though he has the good sense not to have the chauffeur drive him to school, he should have also known that wearing his crested blazer, white shirt and tie probably wasn’t the best move either. This unfortunate choice of dress alienates Charlie a bit from the rest of his classmates and draws the ire of school bully Murphy Bivens (Tyler Hilton) who makes the boys first day of school one of the worst ever. The good thing is that pretty girl Susan (Kat Dennings) has taken a liking to the boy, with the caveat to that being that she is daughter of the School’s Principle, Mr.Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.).

Coming home with a blackened eyes concerns Charlie’s mom who does what I suppose rich folks do and sends the boy to therapy which culminates in Charlie getting a prescription for Ritalin. After taking a couple of those and experiencing the effects, the boy decides to make nice with Murphy the bully and see if perhaps the other kids could use these glorious narcotics, but for a fee. Based on that success Charlie ponders what other narcs these kids could use to help them cope and by simply using his blue blood connections, Charlie is now counseling and medicating the entire school. Things are simply groovy for Mr. Bartlett as his dream of being the most popular kid in school has been realized, he has a hot overly developed girlfriend and even his medicated mom seems happy. Principle Gardner may hate him with a passion, but that can be dealt with. Obviously a seventeen year old boy shouldn’t be dispensing meds without a license to troubled teenagers and this reckless behavior will come to a head in a most unfortunate way.

Some have compared ‘Charlie Bartlett’ to ‘Ferris Beuller’s Day Off’, a film from my teenage years. Other than the fact the principle characters in both films are spoiled rich white kids, there is little else to parallel the two. Ferris Beuller as a character was arrogant – or confident – however you want to look at it, self serving, disrespectful and a borderline anarchist. Charlie Bartlett as a character is insecure, confused and accommodating to a fault. Mind you both films work, I just don’t see much of a connection. What Director Jon Poll along with writer Gustin Nash have managed to do is take a subject matter that on the surface has an extremely limited demographic appeal, that being troubled, angst ridden teenagers, and have created a film that almost anybody who has ever wanted anything can relate to. Charlie’s goal is to be popular and the adults in his life attempt to convince him that there’s more to high school than that. But at seventeen, with high school being basically the culmination of your life’s experience, what IS more important than popularity amongst your peers? Years removed from it, the social structure of high school is almost completely worthless when you look back on it. If you’re lucky, you’ve retained two or three friends from those years. It is highly unlikely that the boy or girl you were dating when you graduated is still by your side, being the most popular kid back in the day means nothing inside your cramped cubicle today, and the fact that you may have been picked on in school has no effect on your stock portfolio and how they are managing themselves today. I think ‘Charlie Bartlett’ captures all of that. HEY HIGH SCHOOL KIDS! Don’t kill yourselves, and don’t take a gun to school, because whatever you’re experiencing today, no matter how powerful the feeling may seem, it will mostly be forgotten tomorrow. Trust me.

Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr. play the roles of Charlie and his foil to perfection, lest we forget that Mr. Downey Jr. was once considered one tof he best young actors of his generation. With that title lost amid some troublesome times, now he’s going to have to settle in on being one of the best middle aged actors of his generation. Hope Davis and Kat Dennings were also solid and not merely throwaway female characters, but real characters who added to the story.

Of course you may be tired of watching stories about troubled rich white kids and their ability to ‘overcome’, but this one’s a good one, and like I’m telling those High School kids believing that getting picked on is the end of their life, Trust Me on this one, ‘Charlie Bartlett’ is one fine film.

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