“Charlie Bartlett” prescribes familiarity, but is not without fun

R, 97 minutes, MGM Films

In this day and age of cinema, and particularly with genres like the teenage comedy, we moviegoers sometimes have to find it in our hearts to be as lenient as possible with our observations on the amount of pure originality that comes with each project. In certain cases, a film might not even be aiming at offering up anything innovative to a genre, recognizing that it is an already established and deep path that has been paved decades before, and it might want to simply exist inside of it as a passable piece of entertainment. Jon Poll’s directorial debut, Charlie Bartlett, is a movie that cannot be what it’s supposed to be (which is serviceable) without the viewer immediately tossing out the possibility of fresh ideas within the genre incorporated here. Films like Risky Business, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Election, and Juno simply do not come around frequently, so we cannot sit around each year waiting on miracles like those. Instead, we must take films like Charlie Bartlett for what they are meant to be and maybe we will learn to like more films in the high school comedy genre. This is a movie that takes from all of the previously mentioned films in some way, and maybe even a handful more that I can think of off the top of my head, yet it still manages to be 97 minutes of time that I had fun with, even if I won’t exactly be remembering it in front of others or even place it in the same breath as most in the genre. It is certainly worth seeing, though.

Anton Yelchin has been working his way up to this kind of inevitable role since his brilliant performance in the underrated film, Hearts of Atlantis, where he held his own with talents like Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis, and at the ripe old age of eleven. Now, at 18, he gets his first major starring film role and takes it on well as the title character, Charlie Bartlett, who we are introduced to as he is being kicked out of something like the 400th private school he’s attended. A rich kid who has been without the presence of his father, who is in jail, for most of his life, Charlie is prone to more mischief than even the regular teenager and feels like he is almost obligated in some way to get expelled from everywhere he attends. His mother is so sedated by the numerous medications she has taken on since the departure of her husband, that she doesn’t take any type of parental obedient action when he commits these unruly acts. Hope Davis plays the mother in another effortless performance, giving the role just the right touch of goofiness without going over the top in a drastic way. When Charlie makes it to the point of having no other private schools in the area to choose from, he has no choice but to face the harsh reality of becoming a part of the public system where he will find that popularity is harder to come by. There is nothing new in this “movie” high school, which is flooded with assigned cliques, rampant bullies, etc., but should we see that as a drawback of this film? Certainly not. There is a reason the same things keep getting portrayed in the high school films – because they really do exist everywhere, no matter how big or how small a school is. Wearing portions of his preppy private school attire doesn’t help Charlie to make a good first impression in the battleground of the school hallways, so he must cook up some mischief and use his therapy-visit connections to find a way to be accepted, and in a big way.

When he finds that he can designate the boys restroom as sort of a “counseling” area, he begins to give advice to anyone wanting it. After one of the kids persuades Charlie to get him a prescription of ritalin, the rest of the school gets wind of this and he is sky-rocketed to stardom and has everyone listening to anything he has to say. He eventually draws attraction from the principal’s daughter, played by Kat Dennings, which can only lead to a battle for her love between the two men. Robert Downey, Jr. gives the movie huge credibility with each scene he is in as the principal, and Poll does a good job of giving a good amount of personal-life time to the character as well. Dennings plays off of both Yelchin and Downey extremely well, balancing out the mood to give some particular scenes some memorable qualities. There are moments in the movie that had me scared and thinking it could fall off a deep end, but for the most part, Charlie Bartlett consistently saves itself by just being flat-out fun, with no boundaries. For what it lacks in originality it definitely makes up for in go-for-broke homaging. Yelchin owes most everything to John Hughes and Matthew Broderick’s Bueller brainchild, among a few others, but he and Poll’s Bartlett is still a worthwhile creation.

7/10

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4 Responses to ““Charlie Bartlett” prescribes familiarity, but is not without fun”

  1. Gregrz Says:

    Brilliant text!, dude

  2. Ferguson Says:

    Thanks for checking it out!

  3. sherpasays Says:

    i actually really want to see this movie.
    but is it worth the over-priced movie ticket?

  4. Ferguson Says:

    Well, if there is really nothing else playing that interests you, this one should be worth it….but let me know next time I talk to you what your other options are.

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