Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Archive: 'Charlie Bartlett'

Movie Review
Charlie Bartlett (2008)

Believe it or not, "Charlie Bartlett" was originally supposed to be released last August. I'm not sure what was added or taken away throughout all this time, but it certainly didn't add up to anything special. Here's a movie that could've been better than it is but isn't, and therefore, will be looked upon as immediately forgettable by most everybody who sees it and then never mentioned ever again. It's not doing well in theaters, that's for sure. It's hard to even place this movie in a category because it tries to be all things at once. While having the potential of being a smart little indie movie, it has traces of being a stupid teen comedy. And then it could also be a coming-of-age drama. And yet, it is all and none of these things all at once, making for one confused bundle of a movie.

In the first 30 minutes, the view of high school presented will make you wonder where the people who made this movie went to school. I mean, talk about contrived. The stereotypes are obnoxious and unnecessarily embarrassing. Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds himself tossed into this scary new environment after getting kicked out of yet another private school. During his first day, he arrives wearing a tie and blazer, catches the eye of a drama girl named Susan (Kat Dennings), and gets beat up by some punk named Murphy (Tyler Hilton).

Back at home, he enjoys quality time with his frivolous and loopy mother, Marilyn (Hope Davis), who turns a blind eye to basically everything Charlie does and feels guilty when anything does go wrong with him, blaming it on herself. She sends Charlie to the family psychiatrist where he complains about his lack of popularity in school. The therapist's suggestion is a low-dose of Ritalin. After trying it out for a few days, Charlie accidentally gets high off it running through his neighborhood in his underwear. And then he decides to sell the Ritalin to his peers. Recruiting Murphy to be his business partner, Charlie holds therapy sessions in the boys' bathroom where he prescribes students whatever medication they need. He acquires all of the medication by simply relaying the students' symptoms back to his own psychiatrists. And there you have it, the perfect recipe for popularity success.

Unfortunately for Charlie, the school's principal, Mr. Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.), knows something is going on and quickly gets on Charlie's case. He, along with everybody else, knows Charlie's name as his popularity continues to swirl about the school. The trouble is that Charlie's interest in Susan only brings him closer to Mr. Gardner as he's her father. But, as the movie points out, it's not just the kids causing the trouble or in need of the guidance. Mr. Gardner hates his job as principal and is a hard-drinking alcoholic, and there's a pivotal scene involving him, Charlie, a swimming pool, and a gun.

And yet this pivotal scene really isn't as important as it could be. There are actually numerous great scenes here, but none of them ever amount to anything good or memorable. This is a movie that actually tackles a lot of tough subjects such as the price of high school popularity and the use and abuse of prescription medications. But a lot of this stuff ends up getting buried underneath a sour level of everything else just not being so good. It's erratic, unfocused, and scatterbrained. The audience, too, is all wrong. The movie is rated R when the core audience is between the ages of 13 and 17 who really need to be seeing this movie.

Hope Davis and Robert Downey Jr. are enjoyable scene-stealers as the helpless parents who are equal to their kids in terms of things they still have to learn in life. It's funny that Robert Downey, Jr. plays people who drink a lot. "Zodiac," specifically, comes to mind. Anton Yelchin, too, as the much-loved Charlie Bartlett, is great. He's goofy, appealing, charismatic, and one rising young star who's worth watching. He can act; he just needs a better script to work with. As much as "Charlie Bartlett" may be an OK movie, it goes from that to being not so good simply due to an abundance of missed opportunities.

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