Charlie Bartlett

Posted February 21, 2008 in Film

As Tom Cruise’s star fades, so Anton Yelchin ascends by starring in his own Risky Business. A prep school dork desperate for friends, Charlie (Yelchin) makes them by selling his classmates their deepest desire. Sex? Nah, these kids are totally 21st century—they want prescription meds and therapy. Business is great because everyone’s parents are, like, completely non-functional. Charlie’s pop is in prison, his mom (Hope Davis) gobbles booze and pills, and crush Susan (Kat Dennings), the principal’s daughter, comes home every day wondering if her depressed dad (Robert Downey Jr.) has offed himself. Charlie establishes itself as yet another rebellious, generational warfare flick, but it’s too sincere to be enjoyably snide. When Gustin Nash’s script shifts course in the second act as Charlie, now the most popular and sainted boy in school, begins preaching a selfless message of personal empowerment, it feels like a teen movie hijacked by guidance counselors—an after-school special in wolf’s clothing. (Director Jon Poll is three decades away from the MySpace generation.) Yelchin’s guileless features and high, croaking voice let him compete with Shia LaBeouf for Most Natural Kid Actor. Both are gawky and real with an earnestness that almost convinces you that they’re unaware of the camera; they could sell the most false film like it’s the Brooklyn Bridge. So derivative it pairs Charlie with a gargantuan special needs sidekick named Len (Dylan Taylor) who stops just short of asking to tend them rabbits, we feel ashamed that it ultimately manages to stoke our fire for (appropriate) insurrection against the Baby Boomers. Then again, Charlie’s civil disobedience doesn’t mean to give them the finger, but extend a hand to pull them out of their self-destructive mire. Helping our parents? Where’s the fun in that? (Amy Nicholson)


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