If you get a chance to see Charlie Bartlett, go! I just got back from a free preview, and I would have happily paid money for it on the way out. It opens this Friday, February 22, and it’s a wonderful teen comedy/drama.
It’s Ferris Bueller meets Pump Up the Volume, only with a modern, deeper take on the problems of teen life. Charlie is a privileged kid who winds up going to public school. He only wants to be liked, and he finds that the way to achieve popularity is to serve as unofficial shrink. Given today’s state of mental treatment, that also means handing out drugs: Xanax, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, all those handy mood helpers. It’s funny, but it’s also quite pointed.
I’d never before heard of Anton Yelchin, who plays the title character, but he’s amazing. His character could have seemed glib or helpless, but he’s got such charm and vulnerability that he’s a marvel to watch. He fully kept my attention for the entire film, without ever descending into cliché, even during a requisite drunk scene.
Speaking of drunk, it’s a tad odd watching Robert Downey Jr. (as the biggest name involved) starring in a film about chemical assistance (although the movie’s about a lot more than that). Then again, who better to know the pitfalls and temptations of addictive behavior? (I love Charlie’s t-shirt: “People like you are the reason people like me need medication.”)
Hope Davis plays Charlie’s disconnected mother, and one of the film’s subtexts is a problem that I’ve seen firsthand: what happens to kids when their parents treat them like peers? When adults aren’t capable of behaving maturely, they wind up taking their kids’ childhoods from them by forcing the kid to be more responsible than they should have to be. She’s darn funny, though. It’s almost a “be careful what you wish for” situation; she seems like she’d be a way cool mother until the complications reveal themselves.
Who else? There’s a bully (Tyler Hilton), a problem Charlie handles creatively, and the girlfriend (Kat Dennings), who has the glamour and self-possession of a brunette Veronica Lake. Oh, and the song “If You Want to Sing Out Sing Out” becomes important, which led KC and I to wonder if the current generation still thinks of Harold and Maude as a cult film, or if it’s been forgotten. There are some interesting similarities between the two movies, both featuring a well-off boy finding creative, out of bounds ways to cope.