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Who Is CHARLIE BARTLETT, And Should We Bother Seeing Him?!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’ve heard a little bit about this one, and I’ve tried to make a few screenings, but timing has prevented me thus far. Still... sounds interesting.

Tonight I got to see Charlie Bartlett at the Los Angeles Film Festival and all I can say is SEE THIS MOVIE. If you’ve been waiting to see a real teen movie since 1985 when the credits to The Breakfast Club stopped rolling, the genie has granted your wish. This is a rated-R honest to god funny, real, touching teen flick. And if you want more of them, I implore that you support this one. I haven’t seen any advertising for this, although my roommate swears he’s seen a trailer, and it’s coming out at the beginning of August, so it could easily slip through the cracks, but this is the type of movie that isn’t being made anymore. At the Q and A afterwards, the filmmakers copped to Harold and Maude being an influence, and while this is lighter in tone than that, they come from the same ilk. Let me get the prerequisite plant talk out of the way. I ain’t one. But I do happen to like this movie, and I’m not going to pretend not to. Chalie Bartlett is a weird kid. His goal at this point in life is to be popular. This has led to him being kicked out of every school he’s ever attended, right before becoming the coolest kid his classmates have ever seen. His mother has treated him as an adult from an early age, and it shows. He’s well spoken, he’s cordial, and he knows how to listen. In some ways he’s more enlightened than the teachers around him, which often leads to conflict. The movie starts with Charlie (Anton Yelchin) being ejected from his most recent prep school, and now having to brave the halls of the public system. He starts his first day in a sports jacket carrying an attache case and promptly gets the crap beat out of him. His mom (Hope Davis) sends him to a psychiatrist where he is prescribed Ritalin. This leads to a psychotic drug-fuelled episode but gives Charlie the idea to sell the Ritalin to others. If it got him high, the kids gotta love it. Charlie befriends the bully who beat him and together they start a drug ring. Kind of. Really, Charlie does some research and becomes a make-shift psychiatrist to all the kids of his school, operating out of the boys bathroom. His patients sit in one stall, while he listens from the next. He “prescribes” them what he feels necessary. That’s the first twenty minutes which lead to a lot of laughs and a lot of real teen life. If that sounds schmaltzy, it’s not. Nothing is rosy in this movie. Everything is played real. My only criticism I’m actually ambivalent about. I feel like there aren’t that many strong emotional beats, but there are a lot of minor ones. And maybe that’s the way it should be. They might have played those moments up, but they chose to make them more realistic. There’s something to respect there. The cast is superb. Charlie Bartlett could have been played by a more leading-man type, but by casting Anton Yelchin they made the character quite a bit more interesting. He’s someone who has to earn respect from his peers, and he does it by actually connecting with them. Robert Downey, Jr. plays the principal and father to Charlie’s love interest played by Kat Dennings. He also has an alcohol problem, which with knowledge of the actor’s past, makes this a pretty brave role. Personally, I always think Downey Jr. knocks it out of the park, but this is a grand slam. You can literally see his admiration and contempt of Charlie evidenced on his face in every scene. And Kat Dennings is great in her own right. She’s the hot girl next door, and she’s got such a likeability to her that you can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. And for all you Degrassi fans, three major cast members have roles. The filmmakers admitted to filming in Canada. Thematically, there’s a lot going on. A lot of teen flicks touch on popularity, but it’s always the same story. Kid is loser. Kid gets popular. Acts like a dick to all his friends. Learns popularity doesn’t mean anything (anyone who’s lived a day on planet Earth can tell you that’s a load of crap). Here we have a kid striving for popularity and he attains it, but it’s not so bad. No it’s not everything, but to a kid in high school it’s a helluva lot. And he’s actually still nice to everyone. You rarely see an edgy teen flick where the lead is just so damn…kind. But what do you do with popularity once you have it? This is one of the film’s central conceits, and there‘s a lot of adults leading this country who could probably do to consider it. The over-medication of today’s youth is another point. On this one, I feel there isn’t as clear a thesis, but it brings up the issue and explores it in ways not too standard. There’s a myriad of other teen-life topics explored as well. And they never tackle them in ways you’d expect. I don’t want to spoil too much of the movie, so I won’t say more. If you like the works of Wes Anderson, John Hughes, Hal Ashby or just have a penchant for dramedies and teen flicks this one is for you. The most comparable movie in recent years is probably Igby Goes Down, but this is less jaded. Afterwards, the director, Jon Poll, asked that we tell all our friends about it, so that’s why I’m writing this. Go see it. You won’t be sorry. 3½ out of 4 Raoul Duke
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