Here’s my review from next week’s inside beat.

charlie bartlett bathroom

Charlie Bartlett

by Tom Wright-Piersanti

6.5/10

Ferris Bueller ruled his high school for reasons never explained in the 1986 comedy. Twelve Twenty-two years later, Charlie Bartlett might have finally found the answer – dealing dope.

Charlie Bartlett is an adolescent tale in the vein of non-traditional hero high school comedies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Rushmore. Charlie, played by Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dogs), is a prep school reject who wears his blazer to a diverse public school environment and isn’t immediately accepted by his peers.

His fortunes change, though, when he realizes that his family’s wealth gives him virtually unlimited access to a number of psychiatrists – which, in turn, means unlimited access to prescription drugs. Much like Ferris, Charlie walks the thin line between confident and annoyingly smug. But unlike Ferris, Charlie sometimes crosses it. Yelchin isn’t perfect in the lead role, but he’s mostly genuine and pretty funny, and his young age (18 years old) should have him typecast for some time to come.

Charlie enlists the help of the school bully (Tyler Hilton) and uses piles of medical journals, along with his personal experience seeing shrinks, to diagnose his classmates’ psychological problems and sell them pills from his office in the boys’ restroom. His business makes him a hero around the school, and it gets the attention of the Principal Gardner (Robert Downy Jr.). Garnder is a powerless leader with a drinking problem and a strained relationship with his teenage daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings), a student in his school.

charlie bartlett downey jr

Downey’s long-publicized real life drug problem adds an element of intangible realism to his already strong performance. As he battles Charlie, he speaks from the voice of first-hand experience. Charlie and Susan begin dating, and the power struggle between the failing principal and the rising student becomes personal. Downey and Yelchin’s interactions provide the film’s dramatic high points, as both men share a mutual understanding and respect, yet know that there isn’t room enough for the two of them.

The movie gets bogged down a bit in Charlie’s other relationships, though. Dennings is clichéd as the drama club “hot girl,” even more so as the rebellious daughter of the principal, and her scenes with Yelchin aren’t exactly gripping. Hope Davis plays his manic, pill-popping mother wonderfully, but their relationship is underdeveloped. Charlie also has a father in jail with whom he seems estranged, but the movie spends too much time talking about the situation without any sort of payoff or real progress.

charlie bartlett susan charlie

It’s a shame that director Jon Poll and writer Gustin Nash, both first-timers, miss the mark on some relationships, because Charlie Bartlett is a pretty fun movie when it clicks. It’s not Ferris Bueller or Rushmore, but just being in the company of those films is reason enough to check it out.

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