Sunday, 10 January 2010

Title: Charlie Bartlett
Director: Jon Poll
Released: 2007
Staring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Murphy Bivens, Mark Randall

Rating: 5 / 5
Plot: After getting expelled from his latest private school, for making fake ID’s Charlie (Yelchin) in another of his doomed quests for popularity, is sent to the local public High School, were he quickly sets up shop as the resident unoffical student Psychiatrist.

Review: Does anyone remember the days when comedies were more than how many gross out gags, involving putting your private parts into baked goods, or basically trying to spoof whatever is currently flavour of the week. Well you might be kind hard pressed to remember any of these comedies especially as they are so few and between these days, leaving it pretty much up to the indie scene to once again capture the spirit of comedies such as “Empire Records” (1995) and “Rushmore” (1998), which first time director Poll seems to have been aiming for here, as even from the beginning you can tell this is a far cry from the types of comedies which have dominated the market over the last few years.

Opening with the daydreaming Charlie being expelled for making fake ID’s it is quickly established, why he is the way he is, having been forced to grow up quickly to support his mother (Davis) who constantly seems in a fragile state since the arrest of Charlie’s father for a crime which is frustratingly never revealed to the viewer. The relationship he has with his mother is on occasion quite creepily incestuous as they, sit at the piano singing show tunes, while making it clear that Charlie for the most part of his life has clearly, been kept in a protective bubble afforded to him by his families wealth and it’s only when he enters the real world of the local public high school, that he learns just how false that world has been, as he’s quickly made fun of because of how he dresses and acts, fitting into none of the usual stereotypical groups (Jocks, stoners, outcasts etc) and quickly finding himself on the wrong side of the school bully and occastional pot dealer Murphy Bivens (Hilton) who takes great delight in not only beating Charlie up, but also having his lackey videotape it at the same time.
It is really only after discovering an ulterior use for his prescribed Ritalin, which if I’m to believe what Poll shows on screen has the same effect as ecstasy, that Charlie discovers his route to popularity teaming up with Murphy to setup shop, quickly bringing him to the attention of the Emo Loner Kip (Randall) who becomes the first of Charlie’s patients, sparking a craze amongst the fellow students as Charlie listens to the problems of the various students, in his office setup in the boys toilet, with the cubicles taking on an look all to similar to that of Catholic confession, almost as if he asking the students to confess to their issues and problems, before taking their stories which he then recites during visits to various psychologists and obtaining prescriptions to the medication he requires. It’s this strange combination of high school issues and drug abuse that seems like strange subject matter, for what at its core is basically a comedy and could just have easily been a much heavier film. Thankfully Poll never feels the temptation of giving us all a lecture about the “Prozac nation” we currently live in, even if he does feel the need to address the dangers of Charlie dishing out med’s by having Kip overdose, rather than having his actions go consequence free.

Seeing how Anton Yelchin is currently drawing comparisons to Mathew Broderick, it makes it all the less surprising that the character of Charlie is a lot similar to that of Broderick’s break through role as titular Ferris in “Ferris Buller’s Day Off” (1986), though it has to be said that Yelchin’s Charlie is a lot less pretentious than Broderick’s Ferris. Kat Dennings also fairs well here, as the principles daughter Susan aswell as the love interest, while at the same time still managing to make her character more than that, even if most of the time she is just basically shadowing Charlie, or being shown reacting to one of his schemes.
Robert Downey Jr. is on equally great form as the principle, constantly being torn between his loyalties to the faculty and the kids, as he constantly battles with Superintendent Sedgwick (Derek McGrath) for control of the school. What is more interesting though about Downey Jr.’s character is his battles with addictions of his own, mainly alcoholism echoing his own real life addictions which I couldn’t help but wonder if, that was what attracted to him to the part in the first place.

“Charlie Bartlett” might have slipped under the radar in the UK, but it is really worth hunting down, especially for fans of Wes Andersons “Rushmore who may find themselves drawing comparisons between the characters of Max Fisher and Charlie, and their equally quirky quests for acceptance, but there is still enough original ideas here, to not be a direct copy, even it does perhaps skirt around some of the heavier issues it tries to cover.

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