Robert Downey Jr
It doesnt take an expert to realise that there is a new trend emerging in this summers films. Piggy-backing off the success of Juno a new generation of sassy, quirky, low budget gems are rolling out of the studios and into our cinemas. Charlie Bartlett claims to pick up where Juno left off, but unfortunately, its a piggy-back too many and the film stands out as a Hollywood attempt to imitate the charm of the smaller film houses.
Hollywood films have their own style and charm, but in Charlie Bartlett its at loggerheads with a more down-to-earth and irreverent style that becomes stilted under the weight of big names and big writing. The film is set in an American high school and flitters uncomfortably between traditional stereotyped teen films, and a more individual and realistic portrayal: the cheerleaders are still here, for instance, but theyre not as polished as those of Shes All That or Mean Girls. The result is a mediocre rendering of an unrealistic although charming young boy as he struggles to come to terms with a very average life.
Charlie Bartlett is the son of wealthy parents, and yet despite the advantages he has been offered he is continually being expelled from the best schools in the country due to an unfortunate habit of entrepreneurship. With no private schools left who will accept him, Charlies alcoholic and spaced out mother, played with pleasing delicacy by Hope Davis, is left with no choice but to send him to the local public high school where he earns a black eye on his first day.
Using his quick intelligence and cunning Charlie is implausibly able to turn the tide of popularity around and soon becomes the most poplar kid in school. The key to his success? He sets up a counselling clinic in the boys bathroom and prescribes anti-depressants to his fellow students. It is all a little far-fetched, but if we can take the leap of faith that is required of us, there is an interesting point being made here. Past teenage heroes have been alcoholics, drug takers and party animals: are we now at the stage where all our youth are really crying out for is someone wholl listen to them?
This idea, which drives the narrative, along with some charismatic performances from a talented cast, save Bartlett from the scrapheap of wannabe Junos. Anton Yelchin puts in a pleasing performance as Charlie, although the script sometimes lets him down. I doubt there is any actor who could make running onto the balcony of a cheesy club wearing only their boxer shorts and shouting ladies and gentleman I am no longer a virgin sound as funny as it was supposed to be. Kat Dennings, who plays Charlies brassy girlfriend, also does a good job of pretending to find this awkward moment absolutely adorable. Robert Downey JR puts in a good performance as the principal and girlfriends father.
Charlie Barlett is great entertainment and it does hold the audiences attention with a quirky little story about a very unusual teenager. However, it fails to rid itself of old teen movie stereotypes and ends up looking a little rusty around the edges. It is easy to come out of this film with the idea that some out of touch and overpaid film execs have overestimated their ability to write formulas for the youth of today and have made a film that makes you cringe as though you have just seen your parents dancing to Beyonce at a wedding.