- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

“Charlie Bartlett” is yet another entry in the burgeoning genre of teen movies, and as its “R” rating implies, it’s the kind that aims for more than just a high-school-aged audience.

The film has bare breasts, bad language and, like the wildly successful “Juno,” some pretty mature subject matter — not that the film is crass, though. In fact, it seems to be shooting for the thoughtful blend of wit, irreverence and seriousness of “Rushmore” or “The Breakfast Club,” although it never quite finds their balanced tone.

The titular character (played with gusto by Anton Yelchin) is a precocious teen who, as the film begins, is just getting kicked out of yet another private school. His offense? Selling fake IDs to the student body. “You have to admit, they look very authentic,” his wealthy, overly medicated mom, Marilyn (Hope Davis), quips to the principal. (Charlie’s dad is in prison for white-collar crime, you see.)

Immediately, we recognize Charlie as a Ferris Bueller type; he’s sweet and instantly likable, but also entrepreneurial, squirrelly and a thorn in the side of authority figures.

Mom does the only thing left to do and enrolls Charlie in public school, where, our protagonist quickly learns, monogrammed blazers and earnestness draw the attentions of bullies such as Murphey (Tyler Hilton). When Charlie subsequently brings home a black eye, Mom rings the on-call shrink, who decides to treat the teen’s oh-so-normal struggle for acceptance and popularity with Ritalin. (Cue the montage of Charlie wigging out, high on pharmaceuticals.)

Inspiration strikes: What if Charlie can sell his prescription drugs to his fellow classmates and conscript Murphey as his partner and bodyguard? Don’t worry: He only sells his meds for recreational use once, then decides to set up a makeshift counseling center in the boys’ bathroom.

Charlie’s fellow students, it seems, aren’t just desperate for some guidance on a host of issues from sexuality to suicidal thoughts; they’re eager to divulge their inner demons to the new kid. (Not realistic, but we’ll let it slide.) The long lines outside the “doctor’s office” draw suspicion from Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), who already has his eye on Charlie when the teen starts courting his daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings). Charlie and the administrator begin collecting dirt about one another, setting up a series of showdowns.

With “Charlie,” first-time screenwriter Gustin Nash and editor-turned-director Jon Poll give us a smart, contemporary teen-centered flick, yet one that lacks a certain bite. For example, the credibility of its implied criticism of the overprescription of mood-altering drugs is undercut by the ease with which Charlie is able to talk his clients through their problems. This might matter less were the jokes real zingers, but they aren’t.

“Charlie Bartlett’s” only “A” performance belongs to the leading man, who manages the perfect balance of boyish meekness and manly confidence, eccentricity and earnestness. He’s a little bit Matthew Broderick, a little bit Anthony Michael Hall, and a lot entertaining.


TITLE: “Charlie Bartlett”

RATING: R (for language, drug content and brief nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Jon Poll. Written by Gustin Nash.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

WEB SITE: www.charliebartlett-themovie.com


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