Sunday, March 02, 2008

Charlie Bartlett (2008)

Just because this movie is going to be a staple on Comedy Central in a couple of years is no reason to punish it unduly, or ignore that it's generally charming and likeable.

Just like Max Fischer from Rushmore, Charlie Bartlett is an intelligent, ambitious young man with little in the way of conventional social skills, but with a deep need for love and acceptance. In fact, Max and Charlie have so much in common, that screenwriter Gustin Nash begins Charlie Bartlett with a fantasy sequence of peer approval which the lead character is abruptly woken up from, just like the opening of Rushmore. From that point on, there are plenty of parallels, but director Jon Poll doesn't have Wes Anderson's unique visual sensibility and the movie typically makes safe, conventional teen-movie decisions. When you're borrowing the same back-of-the-car sex scene from The Girl Next Door, you can't be given too much credit for originality.

But let's move on from that and give Charlie Bartlett credit for what it does have, which is a sharp cast and a reasonably engrossing story that, even if it's not breaking any new ground, at least holds your attention for an hour and a half as Charlie uses his intelligence and empathy (and financial resources) to help his fellow students with their hidden problems and anxieties and in the process learns that popularity isn't the most important thing. Special credit should to go newcomers Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, and Tyler Hilton as Charlie, his teen love interest, and the school-bully-with-a-heart-of-gold, respectively. Faint praise? So be it, but charm shouldn't be underrated, even in our post-Juno world.


cjkennedy said...

Sometimes you have to judge a movie for what it is rather than what you want it to be.

I read too many reviews of Bartlett that did the latter and I ended up steering clear of it. I even skipped it at LAFF last summer because I heard it was stinko.

I'm not saying I'm going to run out and see it based on your review, but I'm certainly more open to it.

Jeff McMahon said...

It's not horrible, I'm not saying you should race out and see it, but for what it is (an unoriginal, slightly-above-average teen comedy) it works.