‘Charlie Bartlett’: Just say no

Wed, 02/27/2008 - 10:20am
By: Emily Baldwin

I first saw a preview for “Charlie Bartlett” before seeing “Once” – one of my favorite movies of 2007. The film’s trailer indicated that it would be a smart comedy with depth and heart and a solid cast. Instead the film veers off course before it even gets its start and struggles for an hour and a half to gain some momentum and credibility.

The title character, played by Anton Yelchin, has been kicked out of every private school around. So, his mom (Hope Davis) – a loopy but well-meaning millionaire whose husband has been sent to prison for tax evasion – has decided it’s time for Charlie to try out something new: public school.

An outsider from the moment he steps onto his new school’s campus, Charlie struggles to get by in his first days. That is until he strikes a partnership with the school bully to run an underground business as the new school shrink. Charlie listens to his classmates’ problems and then hands out advice and pills procured from his own psychiatric sessions. Charlie may have won the hearts and allegiance of his classmates, but he has also gained an enemy in the beleaguered principal (Robert Downey Jr.) who also happens to be his new girlfriend’s father.

So, what’s good about “Charlie Bartlett”? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. The acting from Downey is as good as you would expect, and there is something interesting, if not more than a little irritating, about Yelchin’s portrayal of the well-meaning but misguided Charlie. The second half of the film is also far better than the first half, but I’m afraid that the initial bad taste in my mouth was hard to wash out.

This is writer Gustin Nash’s first film script and it shows. What could have been a smart, funny film felt flat primarily because of a shoddy script not because of the premise. Writers like Diablo Cody (“Juno”) don’t come around often so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Nash, but it would have been great had he managed to include more of Cody’s acerbic wit in this teen comedy.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how much of an impact, or lack thereof, this film had on me is to tell you that when preparing to write this review after seeing the film last night, I couldn’t remember its title. Not a good sign.

I’m giving the film an extra star for Downey’s performance and the film’s effort to improve in its second half.

As an aside, while this film is labeled a teen movie, it is rated R for language, drug content and brief nudity.

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