Reel Reviews

Charlie Bartlett - DVD Review



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</script></div>{/googleAds}Funny thing about Charlie Bartlett the movie. It wants to be a satire piece that delivers a hard-biting message to our school-aged children about teen sex, acceptance, and discovering who you are... among other things. But then on second thought, maybe it's directed at parents to warn us of the problems associated with over-medicating our children. That scenario would actually make more sense as the film's R rating puts it out of reach for most school-aged kids. Either way, the film, and any intended significance, are lost on both potential audiences because it never feels authentic. Instead, it comes off as an after school TV special put together by adults who think they know how kids think and speak. It goes for both comedy and drama, never getting either right. It tries quirky, but is just bizarre. And an out-of-place Ritalin fit by the film's titular character makes us wonder if perhaps, somewhere along the line, the filmmakers decided to send one up to the Strange Wilderness or Cheech and Chong crowd.

Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a scrawny, cool-headed dreamer trying to deal with his own personal shortcomings. His dad's in prison, his mom's a drunk (is it OK if she's also rich?) and he's just been kicked out of another prep school for running an illegal I.D. card manufacturing business. He wants to be the most popular kid at his new public high school, but quickly finds himself on the bad end of a beating delivered by the school's bully. After a visit to the family psychiatrist (which his family keeps on retainer), Charlie devises a plan to sell his prescribed drugs by holding therapy sessions for other students in the boy's bathroom. As a makeshift student counselor, Charlie has suddenly found the popularity he so badly wanted. Problem is, the school's principal (Robert Downey, Jr.) isn't too keen on having a bathroom stall dispensary run from within his school. Charlie's plan works out quite nicely until a troubled student overdoses on the drugs, seriously dampening the school's now cheerful mood, and putting Charlie's newfound popularity in jeopardy.

Charlie BartlettCharlie's rise and fall is a fun thing to watch, but a frustrating one as well. Many inconsistencies with logic and believability could be forgiven if the film were as funny and piercing as it thinks it is. The humor is never laugh out loud funny, nor is it the smart and clever kind either. And the problems associated with over-medicating our children are an already-recognized phenomena in our society, so it's really tough to milk much contention from the subject. They're preaching to the choir here, so most of the satire falls flat.

But where the film does find a little lift is with Yelchin who plays his Charlie with a loveable and endearing presence. It's easy to see why his mom (Hope Davis) has such trouble disciplining Charlie as he's affable, smart, and actually finds comfort in helping others. Failure by Yelchin to connect with the audience would spell absolute disaster. Downey's principal Gardner plays quite nicely against Charlie's loony mom as the two turn in strong, darkly humorous performances. Kat Dennings as Charlie's girlfriend Susan, who is also principal Gardner's daughter, rounds out the surprisingly effective cast of veterans, and relative newcomers. The actors make their characters way more likeable than they should have been, and that's the only glue holding this entire thing together.

Strong acting aside, the story's lack of authenticity with the real world derails any positive vibes created by the crop of fine actors plying their craft. First-timers, director John Poll and writer Gustin Nash, fail to hold the film together both in tone and visual acuity. There are a few clever moments that touch on the endearing quirkiness for which it was reaching, but most of the time it just feels like it's made by a bunch of old guys who seem to have no contact with today's youth.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD
2 stars
2 stars
DVD Experience
2 stars

DVD

DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; audio commentary; deleted scenes; music video; bonus featurettes.

* Commentary - Feature-length audio commentary by director Jon Poll accompanied by actors Yelchin and Dennings
* Music Video - for Spiral Beach's Voodoo

Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging

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