Charlie Bartlett could be the younger brother of Ferris Bueller, the kid from Rushmore or even Hard Harry from Pump Up the Volume. He’s a child of privilege who uses his charm and smarts to get what he wants.
If Ferris made you laugh, you’ll likely enjoy Charlie. If, however, you thought Ferris was simply an annoying snot nosed rich kid you may want to go see Vantage Point instead this weekend because Charlie Bartlett, though appealing, owes a mighty debt to Ferris (and at least a passing nod to Harold and Maude).
Wealthy teenager Charlie Bartlett’s (Anton Yelchin) habit of coming up with outlandish schemes to win the approval of his peers has gotten him kicked out of more private schools than Carter has little liver pills. He’s a troubled kid—“My family has a psychiatrist on call… how normal can I be?” he says—who gets a charge out of doing things that will land him in hot water.
Since no private school will have him he must go to a regular public school run by the Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.) a man so world-weary he makes Andy Warhol look like Richard Simmons.
Still desperate for acceptance he comes up with one more ploy to endear himself to his classmates—like Lucy in the Peanuts—he becomes the school shrink, providing comfort and counsel and even the occasional mood altering drug cocktail. “Bringing psychiatric drugs and teenagers together is like opening a lemonade stand in the desert,” he says of his thriving pharmaceutical business.
When he is done helping his classmates find themselves, however, his life changes when he learns the hard way about the responsibility that comes along with great popularity.
Charlie Bartlett is probably the sweetest movie ever made about a drug dealer. As the titular character Anton Yelchin, best known for juvenile roles on Huff and Curb Your Enthusiasm, injects likeability to a character that in lesser hands could have been quite intolerable. He’s totally believable as the troubled but charming teenager, and his strong presence saves several of the movie’s more precious moments; ditto for Kat Dennings as the young rebel’s girlfriend and Toronto actor Mark Rendall as a terminally depressed Marilyn Manson fan.
If not for this talented cast Charlie Bartlett may have seemed a bit too clever for its own good, a Ferris Bueller on steroids. Luckily the chemistry of the young cast coupled with strong performances from Hope Davis as Charlie’s delicate mom and Downey Jr as the beaten down school master, who is neither master of his school or domain, elevates the film from simply being an 80s teen movie homage to something far more poignant and interesting.
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