This is the rare time when you actually see a drug dealer that cares.
This comedy follows the exploits of Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin), a miserable high school student who finds a novel way to fit in with his classmates: by pretending to be the school psychiatrist, dispensing advice and the occasional prescription medicine. Charlie’s sympathetic ear and ready access to drugs make him popular with the students, but his activities soon attract the unwelcome attention of the school principal (Robert Downey Jr.).
Here we have the 21st century answer to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where basically this one kid, can practically run the whole school without any teachers even being found. However, the comparison is a little weak.
The screenplay for this film actually had some very good writing to it once the film got past all the annoying high-school movie cliches. I liked that in this comedy they had some teenage angst that actually was clever and very real. A lot of people don’t take time to actually listen to a lot of these kids, let alone teenagers, and if only one person can listen with his/her two ears, it can honestly make a whole hell of a difference.
With a lot of comedies that I see, I always see when a film gets sympathetic by the end and it’s usually terribly cheesy. However, in this film the sympathy in the film actually worked because it was thrown in at moments that it needed it the most as opposed to just throwing it in there in order to get some hearts warming up by the end of the film. You also will really start to care for these characters as the film goes on to the point as to where you don’t know who to like and who to dislike.
The problem with this screenplay is that this film actually being a satire on high-school, it should have bitten harder. I mean you have all of these kids, taking drugs, being total assholes towards authority, and an R-rating, so why wouldn’t you push the envelope just a bit. It was a real shame when I saw the roads this film could have actually went down because there are times when it can be a bit edgy but nothing ever too shocking to the point of where you haven’t seen anything like it in a high-school film before, which with the material this film had, could have easily been.
Another problem I had with this film was the non-stop homages and elements that actually seemed like they were borrowed from countless other high-school films such as Rushmore, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and of course the John Hughes films of the 80’s. Probably the most unneeded homage was to Harold and Maude where the film uses the song, “If You Want to Sing Out” by Cat Stevens, for no reason other than just to basically reference that film in a way that seemed kind of dumb actually.
Anton Yelchin does a very good job at Charlie Bartlett who goes from this total geek, to being the most popular and lovable kid in school. Bartlett has the smarts to make you actually believe he’s capable of doing all of this, he has the charms to where you could actually believe that he would be able to actually talk to all of these people he does talk to, and he’s a also a little bit goofy to show that he’s just like you or me, nothing more, nothing less.
Robert Downey Jr. is very good as Principal Gardner, who is basically always drunk but still has a lot of good lines to himself and as usual, Downey plays him to perfection; Hope Davis is also good as Bartlett’s ditzy mom, Marilyn; and Kat Dennings has great scenes when it’s just her and Yelchin together, which makes her an even better fit as Susan Gardner. All of these characters are fleshed out well and we all care about them so that when something bad happens, we actually feel a little bit of it too.
Consensus: Charlie Bartlett has some clever themes about teenagers and the angst they go through, as well some great performances from the cast but the film never goes anywhere beyond it’s R-rating and plays it safe way too much, which is a bummer because this could have really been some nasty and wild stuff since we are talking about high-school taking pills.