Saturday, June 28, 2008

Review: Charlie Bartlett (2007) [Reviewed By Kelsey Zukowski]

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, Robert Downey Jr., Tyler Hilton, Hope Davis, Mark Rendall
Directed By: Jon Poll
Written By: Gustin Nash
Released: 2008
Grade: B+

Charlie Barlett is a high school coming of age story, reflecting on all of the different types of kids who seemingly have little in common with those outside of their social circle. However, a little understanding reveals that no matter how different they all may seem on the outside, they all still have their problems. The feeling that they are the only one is the very thing that brings them together. As they unite, they find a power within themselves that they use to be heard and to take control of what they want in their school. They become like disgruntled citizens overthrowing their government. It begins to feel a lot like Pump up the Volume through the anarchy that the situation brings. Charlie Bartlett is unique from the film as it has its’ own voice, which is the very thing it begins to praise through the characters in the film.

Charlie Bartlett (Yelchin) is a very rich teenager who has been kicked out of just about every private school in the area. His mother, Marilyn (Davis), not knowing what else to do, has Charlie come home and enrolls him in public school for the first time in is life. Everywhere Charlie has been, he never really fit in, which is something he truly longs for. He really wants this school to be different. Since he dresses differently than most kids, he is mistaken for a teacher by a girl that Charlie immediately forms a crush on, Susan (Dennings) and is brutally beat up by the school bully, Murphy (Hilton) for seeming queer. Refusing to relive this day again, Charlie auditions for the school play, that Susan is running, in hopes of impressing her. He also forms a business partnership with Murphy, which results in a new found popularity for him. Charlie uses his psychiatrist to get drugs and with Murphy’s help he sells them to kids in school to make quite the profit. Charlie also becomes a psychiatrist himself, allowing all of the kids in school to vent and share their troubles and concerns in their life with him.

Charlie quickly becomes what he always wanted to be, well liked by everyone including the most important person, Susan. They get closer and soon begin dating. The only problem is that the principal of the school, Principal Gardner (Downey Jr.) quickly blames Charlie for the students rowdiness and lack of respect for the rules. He suspends Charlie for one of his business endeavors and constantly has his eye on him from this point on, which is made all the worse when he turns out to be Susan’s father who has a history of alcoholism and to some degree mental instability. Soon Charlie’s selling habits do come to an end when one of the consumers, Kip (Rendall), uses the drugs to overdose and attempts to commit suicide. Charlie uses this as a chance to make more of a connection with his fellow students and forgets about the money for awhile. This bond ends up causing a full on war between the students and principal for power.

The acting was one of the most appealing elements of the film. In teen dramas like this, especially upon the characters who aren’t direct protagonists, come off as stereotypical and hard to relate to. That is not the case here as even the most minor characters that aren’t given the most background to work with, are still dealt with a sense of realism and true emotions. Anton Yelchin really takes on the role of the title character, Charlie Bartlett. He is extremely likeable and even his facial expressions are completely on key in every moment, really taking us in to the character that he is. We are able to be there every step of the way with him fighting for all of the students that he introduces us to. Kat Dennings of The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, had tremendous chemistry with Anton Yelchin. She brought great charm, intelligence, and independence to her character that made her and Charlie work so wonderfully together as well as seeming that they were really the one that the other needed and deserved. Aside from Charlie, Susan was the most direct character, proving that Kat Dennings can shine in more than a supporting role, but can carry a film herself. Robert Downey Jr. gives another good performance. While he has done better in other films, he gave his character the depth that the role called for. As a principal he was under pressure to implement rules and what seems to be harder; to gain the respect of his students. He suffered a great loss when his wife left him, which causes him to cling to Susan even more as she is the last thing he loves that he still has. At times we are rooting against him, but even in these moments we can still understand him. He is just struggling with a job he doesn’t want, a daughter he is afraid that he is losing, and someone who is still dealing with a lot of anger and pain from his past that he hasn’t fully recovered from.

Mark Rendall plays Kip very well showing fear and depression. He loses sight of any purpose, feeling invisible. Rendall shows us this grieve as well to expose how rewarding self discovery can be. Kip himself isn’t just bettered by this, but he uses his creative voice to give something for everyone else to relate to so they don’t end up in the same situation that he was in. Tyler Hilton did well here as Murphy. He played the rebel before on One Tree Hill, but this film put him in a very different atmosphere. Although, he was the toughest kid in school, his vulnerabilities were shown and exposed for what he really desired. Speaking of TV stars, the film included minor performances by four actors of the teenage drama, Degrassi: The Next Generation; Aubrey Graham, Jake Epstein, Lauren Collins, and Ishan Dave'. Each of them addresses their character with personal experiences of teenage troubles. Ishan Dave' has the largest role between them and puts forth a lot of energy as his character is all for a change and making that change happen himself.

I was interested by the trailer for the film, but honestly the film exceeded my expectations. It touches upon material that has been dealt with before, but that doesn‘t make it any less of a film. Charlie Bartlett is thoroughly enjoyable and takes hold of you, by giving you endless amounts of characters to relate to. The real value of popularity, the future, others’ motives, self integrity, societal justice, creative voices, learning what you desire and what you deserve can be the same thing, loss, shame, expectations, standing up for your beliefs, confusion, friendship, family, and many other things are all dealt with. No matter who you are there should be something or someone you can relate to in this film. There are many negative as well as positive things dealt with , which is very reminiscent of life itself. Otherness is greatly encouraged as well as thinking for yourself and not letting anyone define who you are. Charlie Bartlett deals with similar themes, because it finds these themes universal and important to discuss, which the film does wonderfully through great comedy, very natural and charismatic performances portraying likeable multi-dimensional characters.

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