High school: for some it’s the best time of their lives, and for others, it’s the worst. As clichéd as it may be, high school is an experience that can either make or break you during adolescence.
For Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin), it’s done a bit of both. Despite being highly intelligent, Charlie has spent most of his high school years getting kicked out of every private school in town. After getting expelled from the last school for running a fake I.D. service out of his dorm room, his mother (Hope Davis) enrols him in the last resort- public school. A rich kid like Charlie (whom gets chauffeured to school in a limo every day) definitely doesn’t fit in at a stereotypical high school; amidst jocks, cheerleaders, bullies and cool kids, Charlie and his private school uniform and attaché case stick out like a sore thumb.
When Charlie explains his school anxiety to the family psychiatrist, he is incorrectly diagnosed with ADD and is given a prescription for Ritalin. Charlie’s brilliant mind gets straight to work, and he teams up with the school bully to sell the pills at the school dance. Word spreads through school, and students start meeting with Charlie in his office (the boy’s bathroom) for underground prescriptions. Soon, students seek out Charlie left and right for prescriptions, but more importantly, for someone to just hear them out. Charlie quickly rises from the bottom of the school’s popularity chart to the top, but will his new position be too much for him to handle?
Everything about Charlie Bartlett is fantastic, but the acting is truly wonderful. Anton Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantis, Alpha Dog, Huff) shines from the very first moment he appears in the film; he is the perfect underdog that you just can’t help rooting for. Yelchin also manages to be extremely witty and charming on screen, and brings the character of Charlie Bartlett to life almost flawlessly. Likewise,Robert Downey Jr. (Good Night and Good Luck, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac), who plays the public school principal, Principal Gardner, also does a terrific job. Downey Jr. is convincing as he fights against Charlie’s underground services (quite similar to the relationship between Ferris and the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off); he brings both heart and depth to the role, making it more than just a transparent character.
The supporting cast should also be noted- Hope Davis (About Schmidt, Flatliners) is hilariously funny as Charlie’s alcoholic mother, while Kat Dennings (Raise Your Voice, The 40-Year Old Virgin) brings tons of charisma to the screen as Charlie’s girlfriend. I was also thrilled to see four of the stars of my favorite guilty-pleasure TV show, Degrassi: The Next Generation show up in the film. Jake Epstein, Lauren Collins, Aubrey Graham, and Ishan Dave (whom play Craig, Paige, Jimmy and Linus, respectively) all make cameos in the movie.
Besides stellar acting, the film is also blessed with a great plot. Writer Gustin Nash does a wonderful job of combining clever humor with a heartfelt subplot, which is done so well that it doesn’t come off as being corny or even too sentimental. In fact, that might possibly be the best part of the film- the realness of it all. We’ve all been through high school before, and everyone can relate to the awkwardness of it- not fitting in, being picked on, wanting to be popular, .etc- and the movie shows all of this in such a real and refreshing light.
Charlie Bartlett is probably the best movie I’ve seen so far in ’08 (and trust me, I’ve seen almost everything that’s out- I literally go to the movies at least once, and sometimes twice, a week). Like the other reviewer pointed out, the film is a cross between Ferris Bueller and Juno, and the result is a classic coming of age tale that anyone can relate to and should enjoy.