Published Feb 22, 2008Charlie Bartlett is one big hodgepodge of Rushmore, Igby Goes Down, Thumbsucker, Ferris Buellers Day Off and a whole slew of other coming-of-age tales of teen rebellion. Not that this is an overtly bad thing but as the film plays out, it doesnt necessarily help its cause come the finale.
The charming and wily Anton Yelchin, with his unnaturally refined speech and devilish grin, plays the titular character, a rich kid who gets thrown out of one too many prep schools and, subsequently, is forced to enrol in a public school.
As a result of his anti-authoritarian ways, our feisty little Charlie visits a shrink and is thus prescribed various medications. The film takes a seemingly odd turn when the kid decides to traffic his head candy to the student body. He quickly becomes the go-to-guy for bathroom stall counselling and behind the corner pill refills. This newfound pharmacist role endears him to the entire school population, including the class bully, but not the schools alcoholic Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.).
The predictable high school movie life lesson comes when Charlie realises he can teach his classmates that they can make it without getting high (or low, depending on the type of psychological abnormality at hand). The film manages to propose (and solve) psychological conundrums for many of its troubled players, including the Principal, Charlies mom (Hope Davis), the bully (Tyler Hilton) and several other characters. In other words, its an intentional comedy that abruptly takes the heart-warming Full House route when we break the halfway point.
Had it not gone too cute and cookie-cutter, Charlie Bartlett would pass with flying colours but alas, when you remove all the layers of high school movie imitation, what remains is a mediocre family lesson in accepting fucked up kids for who they truly are.
It ends up being a shiny package of morality, empathy and all kinds of other predictably gushy sentiments. Although Downey is nothing short of brilliant, finding a way to break through his dully-written character. (MGM)