The kids at Western Summit High have “issues,” and newcomer Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is coming to their rescue. With a briefcase full of prescription pills and a head full of pop psychology, this rebel with a cause brings hilarious help to the student body and unending grief to their neurotic principal, Mr. Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.). Suddenly, Charlie is the hottest man on campus and he’s even caught the eye of Gardner’s sultry daughter. An outrageous send-up of today’s Prozac generation, Charlie Bartlett has your prescription for laugh-out-loud insanity!
Charlie Bartlett is a breath of fresh air. Rarely is a teen movie so insightful and intelligently written. It’s reminiscent of the 80’s classics like Ferris Buller’s Day Off and Can’t Buy Me Love. The comedy is often dry and sarcastic, but ever so witty.
The story follows a smart and wealthy teenager in his quest to fit in. Innocent though he may be, he finds himself crossing the line in order to fit in. Becoming Western Summit High’s student psychologist, he soon finds a wealth of popularity that consumes him. He points out early on in the film that people say that high school isn’t about popularity, but to him, a seventeen year old, it’s everything. Robert Downey Jr.’s character soon points out that it isn’t about the popularity, but what you do with that popularity that counts. This seems to flick a switch in Charlie. The overall message of the film seems to nod towards friendship and communication over the cool crowd, which most people can’t appreciate until their post-high school years.
So who is this Anton Yelchin, and why did I know of him before now? With an impressive film and TV resume, this will surely be a face that we will see more of in the future. He does a brilliant job portraying the innocent yet clever schemer, Charlie Bartlett. Robert Downey Jr. is superb in whatever role he plays. Here we see him playing the responsible figure who while damaged still manages to be the good guy (most of the time) despite the pressure to ruin Charlie’s life. The mother played by Hope Davis is clueless despite the fact she clearly loves her boy a great deal. I mean I can’t help but to love a character who plays tennis the same way I do. And then there was Tyler Hilton who played Murphey Bivens. Whether he was trying to break any type-casting that would be adopted from his role on One Tree Hill or just trying a brief step to dark side, he does a brilliant job at catching the essence of the misunderstood tough guy from the other side of the tracks. Kat Dennings who also does a wonderful job in this film, should be commended for her beautiful singing voice that we hear at the movie’s conclusion.
The best part of the movie is the attention paid to the characters. Little details, often glazed over in so many other films, are highlighted in Charlie Bartlett. This is most observable with Hope Davis’ character as well as Tyler Hilton’s character, which both are so much deeper than the average person would assume upon first glance. I applaud the writers for showing this depth as the movie progresses. It created a sense of realism that is so often absent from movies of this genre.
While there aren’t many negative things I can say about Charlie Bartlett, it would be unlike me to not point out the unrealistic. Most of the teenage films out there are filled with the over exaggerated stereotypes that all seem to come together and be accepting of everyone. While Charlie Bartlett dances a fine line between these movies, the story completes itself in a way that you can respect and not feel like you’re seeing the same teen movie over again with different casting. Although, I have to say what was up with the student lounge?! Show me a school that has a lounge like that!
Mad props to the writers who didn’t dumb down the script for this one. It’s a respectable movie that would and should make a fine addition to your DVD collection.
Review by Emma Loggins