Jon Poll’s look at the high schooler’s psyche is an intermittently successful attempt at creating a fresh high school comedy.
Charlie Bartlett is a private school kid who is forced to go to public school where Charlie Bartlett hopes to live up to the greatest dream in his life, to be popular! He does this by getting himself prescribed countless prescriptions by visiting his rich psychiatrists of the family with the symptoms of his fellow classmates so he can help them out and give them the drugs that might help them. Charlie also looks for love in the Principals daughter while her father deals with depression and alcoholism. The movie is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.
One of the first issues with the film right off the bat is that Poll is obviously trying to create his “Rushmore,” which is an uphill battle to compete with Wes Anderson’s fantastic picture. The two lead characters in these films have many similarities with a couple of personality quirks just taken to the polar opposite. Other similarities include, the cool demeanor with authority, drama clubs, private school kid sent to public school, the biggest differences is Charlie Bartlett is a bit more likable and popular then his counter part Max Fischer.
The films believability is also asking for a the viewer to let a lot slide and the films message is kind of all over the place, never really settling on anything nor really resolving a whole lot. The film is also full of stereotypes, and while they put a different spin on their actions they are still pretty unoriginal.
The film does cover and address some very real issues that high school students go through and for that I applaud them. Though the pill popping prescription the film kind of sort of advocates isn’t really a message today’s society really needs to be glorifying. The film doesn’t even necessarily glorify it, and does offer an alternative to medicine in just good old therapy, but that still is only because of the result of not being able to offer the drugs any more.
The third act also runs into a lot of issues with way to easy fixes and drastic and swinging tones that are just all over the place.
The acting is fairly good though, Robert Downey Jr. as the principal is very good with a dry sense of humor and is convincing as an adult on cruise control through life. Hope Davis is also very good as the easy going, upper induced blissed out mother of Charlie, and is a joy to watch on screen every time she ends up in frame. Anton Yelchin is good as well as the title character, with same great bits with his random outbursts to people. He has a wide range and shows it here but it will be interesting where he goes from here and what he does with his career.
In the end, Charlie Bartlett is a mixed bag that is worth the rental if interested. The movie feels too much like a knock off of Rushmore to ever praise it, but it isn’t horrible by any means. There are some really great moments sprinkled throughout and the movie never falls below being ok, which is a decent accomplishment with the amount of trash that gets released and wishes it was just ok. Either way, the film is kind of stuck in mediocrity with hints of greatness.