Charlie St. Cloud Directed by: Burr Steers Cast: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Ray Liotta, Donal Logue Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: July 30, 2010
PLOT: A young man is wracked with guilt after the death of his younger brother. After five years of withdrawal from the world, he finds new meaning to his life with the love of a young woman.
WHO'S IT FOR? This ones for tweens and Efron fans. Anyone who's faced real loss may find the portrayal a little insincere. It's about the same genuine emotion behind A Walk to Remember or The Notebook so fans of the weepy genre may want to take a look.
EXPECTATIONS: I was hoping for an honest attempt at emotional depth aimed at teens. There aren't too many teen movies out there that take a hard-hitting look at love and loss and I was hoping against hope that this film would consider these topics. When they loaded Cats & Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore on accident, I should've taken that as a sign I wasn't going to get what I wanted.
Zac Efron as Charlie St. Cloud: This was a chance for Efron to break out of his High School Musical role. He's played it safe in so many movies, I wasn't convinced he could do much else. The good news is he proves he's more than capable. The bad news? Self-destructive and smitten rarely go well when paired up together. If I was judging Efron's potential, I'd have to say I was impressed with the possibility of more roles with depth. Unfortunately, the reality of it is the character doesn't have a lot going on besides brooding and baseball with his dead brother. Oh, did that sound insensitive? Yeah, I guess it kinda was. Oh well, the truth hurts, almost as much as watching this movie. Score: 7
Amanda Crew as Tess: I think it's safe to say that she suffers the most from the "five years later." It's clear she's done a lot of growing up in those years that we never get a chance to see and as a result, I felt like I missed out on a lot of what that character had to offer. Instead, she just kind of takes up screen time. Her pairing with Charlie feels secondary and maybe it's just me, but any chick who sleeps with a guy after he pours her a couple glasses of wine isn't given much of a fair chance. She's pretty much written off as "head over heels" or a "cheap date," but Tess manages to come off as, well, a little bit of both. The relationship that follows develops rapidly and unbelievably and sadly, that's the highlight. I can't even bring myself to talk about her role in the third act. Score: 5
Charlie Tahan as Sam: Sam is a complex character who, unfortunately, is never afforded that much screen time. He's a young kid too, so I wasn't expecting to be blown away, but I was surprised by the performance. If only the same could be said for the script. He's charged with the difficult task of bringing humor and heart to the story. It's hard to find much humor in some of his last words to his brother being "you're such a dick" but the rest of the audience seemed to laugh. The humor is often misplaced and distracting, but when it comes to genuine emotion, he does pretty well. It's a sensitive subject, but he tackles the role pretty well with what he's given. Score: 6
TALKING: The talking is the downfall of the movie. It's hard to take certain lines that seriously feel as if they were lifted straight from Chicken Noodle Soup for the Teenage Soul too seriously. Sadly, that's the caliber of most of the script. Bad platitudes abound throughout its 100 minute running time, but sometimes, if you just sit back and enjoy the pretty people, it doesn't hurt so much. Other moments such as Charlie telling his brother that they'll always be brothers, followed by "promise?" just plain don't make sense to me. How can you break the promise of having the same mother? I mean, is that even a promise to begin with? Still, sometimes the cliches are really the only way to convey the emotion. I'm not excusing it, but cliches become overused for a reason. especially when dealing with grief, there isn't a whole lot else to say that hasn't been said before. Score: 4
SIGHTS:The sights are breathtaking. No, I'm not talking about Efron's abs (but ladies will not be disappointed). The scenery of the small coastal town is absolutely breathtaking. Maybe I've been cooped up in the concrete jungle, but it made me miss the days I used to sail up in Minnesota. Shots of the sea and the vast forest are beautifully placed throughout the film. Aside from the gorgeous natural sights, the movie focuses a little bit here and there on the local flavor of small town life. The unassuming shops and even the town harbor help to sell the small town charm, which is never really given the credit it deserves, but remains an important element in the story nonetheless. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Isn't it always funny how some obscure indie band ends up playing on the radio in a hip small-town bar? Believe me, if that were the case, and I didn't expect to hear Lady Gaga or Beyonce, I'd be out in the bar scene a lot more. Matthew Barber, who I've been a big fan of for about two years, is finally getting some props which was refreshing to hear. Honestly, most of the music is pretty strong, but nothing new to devoted indie fans. The only downside to the musical selection is the score of the movie itself. It tends to lead the scene with its overdramatic tone which can be distracting, but other than that, an impressive effort. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The car wreck that we all knew was coming is surprisingly well done. It's both tasteful and emotionally resonant. Most early scenes in the movie do well in illustrating the dynamic between the two brothers that forms what should've been the emotional core of the movie.
ENDING: The third act "twist" occurs about a half hour before the movie is over. Ignoring the fact that the twist is heavily foreshadowed, by the time it was over, I honestly found myself praying for death.
QUESTIONS: If a ghost throws a ball and hits you in the nuts, does it still hurt? I'm not being zen or anything, it actually comes up. It's hinted as to why Charlie can see ghosts or whatever you'd like to call them, but it's never clear what role they play in his world. Can he physically interact with them or does he just think that he does? I never got that bit.
REWATCHABILITY: Remember the torture scene in A Clockwork Orange where they're playing scenes of violence and forcing Alex to watch? Maybe I'd rewatch Charlie St. Cloud if I was re-enacting that.
Part of the problem with Charlie St. Cloud is that it's never sure of what it wants to be. At its best, it's a fine performance piece for Efron. At its worst, it reads like a bad episode of The Ghost Whisperer. Although it has some very strong emotional moments, it quickly loses sight in moments of inappropriate humor and unnecessary dramatics. If it had been a more concentrated effort, focused on telling a story rather than pleasing tweens, it may have succeeded, but sadly, it comes up short.
With the previews, I was initially concerned with the balance of sincere emotion and smarmy romance, but there's much more at work. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that there's too much. The loss of his brother, his romantic interests, and his quest for forgiveness all work together to muddy the waters. I was never entirely sure of how I was supposed to feel at any given moment. It's this and a variety of other things that destroy any chance of Charlie St. Cloud being taken seriously. Although I initially had hopes for the project, Charlie St. Cloud nearly drowns itself in missed opportunities.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10