Ken's Review: Charlie Bartlett - A Surprising Gem That Needs to be Discovered
by Ken Evans
February 25, 2008
Charlie Bartlett proves, like so many movies before it, that you can't judge a film by its trailer. I wasn't that excited to see this to be perfectly honest. There wasn't much buzz about it and the trailer just didn't do anything for me. If it wasn't for the early screening and the fact that I wasn't doing anything last Tuesday night, I might not have seen it for quite some time. It's funny how those situations usually turn out to be much better than expected and sometimes you ending up seeing a gem of a movie.
High schooler Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) has a dysfunctional home life with his mom (Hope Davis), who is in a constant state of depression, and his dad is in jail. Charlie's family is wealthy so he has grown up attending the best schools and being chauffeured around in a limo. Having gotten kicked out of the last few private schools for illegal activities, such as making fake drivers licenses, his mom decides to enroll him in public school. Charlie quickly adapts and begins helping the other students by giving them life advice while also prescribing medication he acquires through his psychiatrist. During the course of the year, Charlie finds romance and discovers that after all the advice he gives out, he was the one who needed it the most.
This is not Rushmore, so let's just get that out of the way right now. I have heard a few people try to compare the two but I just don't see it. This definitely comes across as an original story with solid performances and quirky humor. What really sets it apart are the deep issues it deals with like suicide and drug addiction, while also working through the complex inner struggles of some of the characters. It does contain the usual story of a semi-nerdy student forced into a rougher school, who then ends up becoming the most popular kid around. But the character relationships and mature situations that Charlie faces make this a much deeper film then it initially comes across as.
Two performances stood out high above the others in this film. The first is Anton Yelchin as Charlie Bartlett. I haven't seen Alpha Dog or Fierce People, so this is my first introduction to Anton. I thought he was perfect and I can't wait to see him in his next few films. His personality during the film is pretty awkward and almost cheesy, which fits for being a well bred son of a rich family. However, there are a few scenes where he breaks out and either sings or does an impersonation or acts out a monologue that were absolutely brilliant. I hope you pick up on it if you see Charlie Bartlett, because he definitely is an up-and-coming actor to watch out for.
The second performance that was outstanding was from Robert Downey Jr., as Principal Gardner and father of the girl Charlie likes. He is a divorced alcoholic who hates his job, loves his daughter, and struggles with how to get his life under control. Robert Downey Jr. plays these types of roles well with this one being no exception. His scene at the end with Charlie was outstanding. Seeing him do well in this got me excited to watch him in Iron Man, as he truly is a great actor.
Overall I thought it was a very good movie from a director (Jon Poll) and a writer (Gustin Nash) who don't have much experience in either directing or writing. Besides a bit of pacing issues and a love scene between Charlie and his girlfriend that felt contrived and pointless, it was a solid film. Not a movie I'm rushing out to see again but I'll definitely pick it up on DVD. In Bruges is still my favorite film out in theaters, but Charlie Bartlett and Be Kind Rewind won't let you down. It really just depends on the type of film you're in the mood to see.