Friday, February 22, 2008

Charlie Bartlett

“My family has a psychiatrist on call, how normal can I be?”

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) has gotten kicked out of his last private school for making fake drivers licenses for the entire student population. Now it’s off to public school and an attempt to fit in.

The problem is the uptight Charlie, complete with tie and blazer, doesn’t exactly fit in. He’s largely ignored and picked on by the resident bully (Tyler Hilton), before finding his niche as the school’s unofficial conselor and drug dealer. Charlie’s motives are pure, most of the time, and he tries his best to help the student body by using the army of psychiatrists his family has on call to get the medication for them. Charlie also raises the ire of the principal (Robert Downey Jr.) by dating his daughter (Kat Dennings), and is forced to face the music when some of his schemes are discovered.

There’s something hopefull about this film. It doesn’t paint a single character as black and white, each has the capacity for change and the yearning for something more. In a teenage comedy that’s quite rare.

For Yelchin this is a star-making role, and although he goes a bid too crazy at times, he exudes a likablitly and earnestness that makes us both like and care what happens to this character. The scenes with his mother (Hope Davis) and the parallels between Principal Gardener are Susan are well handled and even touching at times. The film also contains a, somewhat unbelievable, movie magic moment between Charlie and Susan with a new spin on the drive-in movie.

There are some issues, however. First, it feels as if the outtakes have been allowed to stay in the film with a handful of scenes that just make you shake you head and groan. The film also runs the gamut in tone shift from dramatic to zanny, all of which doesn’t necessarily fit well together, as if director Jon Poll couldn’t quite get the right balance.

The film doesn’t really break any new ground. In many ways it feels like a mash-up of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pump Up the Volume (both of which are better films), and, as I’ve said, it has it’s problems. But Charlie Bartlett does have it’s heart in the right place and does earn a passing grade by providing a sweet film worth seeing.

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