Monday, 21 September 2020
Charlie Bartlett
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Monday, 25 February 2008 13:29


ThumbnailCharlie Bartlett isn’t necessarily a teen film so much as a film about teens. There’s very little here to lump it into a category with, say the latest Hilary Duff fluff. Instead it would rather be stacked alongside John Hughes films of the 80’s, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink. Although this quirky little film doesn’t reach those mythic proportions it certainly entertains while trying, and it never hurts to aim high even if you fall a little short of the mark.

The title character, played by energetic young Anton Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantis) is like a cross between charming, rebellious Ferris Bueller and over privileged Prince William. He’s got issues – boy does he have issues. Likeable but lonely, he comes up with scheme after scheme to make friends, including making face drivers licenses. After he gets kicked out of every private school available Charlie’s indulgent mother can no longer bribe her sons way to an education. So Charlie finds himself smack in the middle of the public school system enjoying the welcoming thumps of the school bully and getting his head flushed down the toilet.

In a lot of ways Charlie is an unconventional kind of guy, not afraid to burst into song with his mom at the piano or wear a jacket and tie to a school without a dress code. But in another light he is just like every other kid his age and wants nothing more than to be accepted and liked by his peers. After a mind-altering experience with Ritalin prescribed by the family phyciatrist, Charlie realizes that he can get any prescription meds he wants by faking the symptoms. So he opens up his “office” in the boy’s washroom and starts playing shrink to the student body, treating cheerleaders with self-esteem issues, and nerds suffering from panic attacks. All of a sudden Charlie is the most popular kid in school and happier than ever because he genuinely thinks he’s helping people.

All of this happens under the nose of the school principal played by Robert Downey Jr. By the way, if he were my principal I would want to be sent to his office every day if you catch my meaning. However for Charlie, being under Principal Gardner’s scrutiny is a definite inconvenience. Gardner is an unhappy soul who perhaps yearns for a little of popularity himself. He’s stuck in a job he never wanted, his wife has left him and worst of all, his daughter is alienating herself from him. To make matters worse she is dating the bane of his existence Charlie Bartlett.

An interesting thing about this movie is that the adult characters are just as, if not more interesting than the central teenagers. To some degree they are stereotypes but manage to rise above becoming two-dimensional charicatures into something more. For instance, Principal Gardner can’t stand Charlie but refuses to have him expelled because he knows it’s not the right thing to do. On some level he admires this precocious kid and even offers him some words of wisdom. There are more important things than being popular; he advises it’s what you do with the popularity that is important.Thumbnail

Charlie’s mom, played by Hope Davis, at first comes across as a money-flaunting, pill-popping rich bitch. She’s on another planet, playing tennis with the chauffeur and calling the therapist for emergency sessions. We come to realize that she loves her son very much but simply isn’t much more mature than he is. She knows her parenting skills are lacking and becomes his friend rather than his mother, leaving him with the burden of trying to make her happy in the absence of his father.

This is a sweet, good-natured film about the price of acceptance. In some ways it’s an irresponsible piece – there’s a lot of wrongdoing going on that looks like way too much fun. But ultimately the message is a good one and there’s definitely entertainment to be had along the way. Charlie Bartlett is an energetic little movie that’ll put a smile on your face. I give it 6 out of 10.