In the first few minutes of the film, I want to pull Charlie aside and have a heart to heart. I want to explain to him he doesn’t have to try so hard, and being popular really shouldn’t be that important. But then we wouldn’t have a movie now would we?
“Charlie Bartlett” is an earnest attempt to tackle the glaring problem of over-medicating today’s kids. Unfortunately, a genuine debate is never created, and our lead character isn’t really that charming.
Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is an optimist who dreams of being the popular kid. After getting kicked out of every prep school imaginable, he moves back home with his drunk mother (Hope Davis) and attends Western Summit High School, a public school run by a principal (Robert Downey Jr.) who would rather be liked than feared.
Immediately, Charlie is beaten up and ignored. But Charlie comes up with a plan once his personal psychiatrist gives him Ritalin. He starts collecting a variety of drugs, sells them to students, all while holding therapy sessions in the boy’s bathroom.
Charlie is willing to listen to all the problems of the modern day high school student, which mainly consists of being ignored, having sex and trying to figure out who you are (in other words, nothing has changed).
Beyond that, everything about high school has changed. Apparently, kids are constantly smoking pot and cigarettes on school grounds. Nothing about “Charlie Bartlett” comes off as authentic. The film is stuck between a comedy and drama, never knowing if it should go for the jokes. It leaves you feeling uneasy.
Unfortunately, Yelchin just doesn’t seem up to the task of leading us through this coming-of-age journey. The only reason he listens to problems is because of his undying need to be popular. He doesn’t just want lots of friends, he wants to be worshipped. It’s tough to cheer for that.
Davis doesn’t help the film either, playing the loony mom who is either drugged or drunk the entire film. She normally delivers, but only a young and crazy Sharon Stone could have pulled off this role.
The one truly authentic character is Charlie’s girlfriend, Susan, who is also the daughter of Principal Gardner. In fact, a film about a normal girl trying to adjust with an unhappy, alcoholic father — who is also the principal — sounds better than what I sat through.
“Charlie Bartlett” is a poor man’s “Rushmore.” When real subjects such as suicide and alcoholism come up, this film doesn’t know what to do. There is a great film waiting to be made about psychiatry, anti-depressants and our youth, but this isn’t it.
Final Score: 3 out of 10
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis and Kat Dennings
Directed by: Jon Poll
Other: An MGM release. Rated R (language, drug content and brief nudity). Running time: 97 minutes.