Length: 97 minutes
Director: Jon Poll (The Tree; Something Borrowed)
Writer: Gustin Nash (Youth in Revolt; “Da Mob”)
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Hope Davis, Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton, Megan Park, Jake Epstein, Derek McGrath, Lauren Collins, Aubrey Graham
“Charlie Bartlett” is one of the most obnoxious high school comedies I’ve seen in a while. It’s one of those high school movies that pretends to be about “real kids” and how they feel and what they go through and how adults just don’t understand. Yet, the whole time I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t know anybody that reminded me of a single character in the film. The movie desperately wants to be the next “Rushmore”, but doesn’t have even an ounce of wit that that film has. It also tackles some of the same issues that the equally smug failure, “Thumbsucker”, did- that being the over abundance of prescriptions being handed out to kids when doctors can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with them. One doctor even tells Charlie that once he starts taking the medicine that’s when they’ll see if he actually has the condition. Bartlett is played by a young actor named Anton Yelchin in an extremely annoying performance. I guess he can’t be fully blamed as he was probably directed this way. His character is trying to be as exuberant and eccentric as Max Fischer, but comes across as someone whom you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. When he suddenly rises to God status at his new public high school, you have to wonder what the hell everybody sees in this kid? When the film opens, Charlie is being kicked out of his umpteenth private school for running a fake ID scam. His doped up rich mother (Hope Davis- tragically underused) decides to celebrate instead of punishing him and they have a few laughs and enroll him in his first public school. Like “Rushmore”, Bartlett arrives on his first day in his private school gear and is met with the rage of the school bully/drug dealer Murph (Tyler Hilton). Charlie notices that public school kids seem a little bit more down than private school kids and after being misdiagnosed with Ritalin by his doctor, he goes into business with Murph. Charlie and Murph end up running a psychiatric office in the boy’s bathroom. The kids line up, sit in a stall next to Charlie, explain their problems and are prescribed medication as needed. The newly appointed Principal Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.) begins to notice some problems and to top it off his rebellious daughter (Kat Dennings) has taken quite a likening to Charlie. Poor Downey. He gives one of the best performances of his career here and for what? An extremely weak teen movie (with an “R” rating no less) that has a severe identity crisis. There is a hilarious scene where Downey, who’s character has become an alcoholic, explains to Charlie the dangers of drugs. Just hearing Downey utter those magic words earned this half a star. Too bad he couldn’t have had the pleasure of using that comic brilliance in a better film.
(Note- “Degrassi- The Next Generation” fans will be pleased to find that three cast members have minor roles here. Jake Epstein (Craig), Lauren Collins (Paige), and Aubrey Graham (Jimmy) are present, though they aren’t given much to do. Epstein even gets a pretty high credit even though he gets the least screen time of the three as the school’s quarterback)