The Virginia Tech Union hosted a special advance screening of the upcoming film ‘Chalie Bartlett’ last night at the Lyric.
Admission was free and the line to get in stretched from the Lyric, down the street and around the corner, nearly to Oge Chi’s.
The theater filled quickly when the doors opened, as fans of free movies and fans of Tyler Hilton, who stars in the film, suffered the blistering cold to be able to see the screening. Hilton’s flight was delayed because of the high winds, so he did not make it. Some people were sent home as they watched the doors to the Lyric close once it reached capacity. They almost got in. Like Hilton and those who were turned away, “Charlie Bartlett” is a movie of almosts. It almost made some compelling statements about adolescence; it almost addressed serious issues concerning high school; it was almost good.
“Charlie Bartlett,” from director Jon Poll, follows the titular 17-year-old boy, played by Anton Yelchin, whose shenanigans have had him continuously kicked out of private schools. Charlie lives with his mom in an extravagant “estate” fully equipped with tennis court, grand piano and butler. He’s an eccentric boy, supremely charismatic from the audience point of view in a Ferris Bueller kind of way, but lacks the popularity that he so blatantly craves from his peers. After being expelled from another school for making fake IDs, Charlie is sent to (gasp!) public school. There, he encounters every stereotype that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in movies about high school: cheerleaders, punks, bullies and losers. He also manages to befriend Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings) unknowing of the fact that that her father is the school principal (Robert Downey Jr.).
On his first day of school, Charlie is undoubtedly harassed for his blazer-wearing, briefcase-carrying, “Hi, I’m Charlie, nice to meet you” demeanor. In his home life, Charlie’s mother has called the family psychiatrist who eventually prescribes Ritalin to Charlie. Realizing that it gets you high, Bartlett teams up with Murphy (Tyler Hilton), the resident punk of the school, as business partners to sell the pills. Suddenly, he’s running a psychiatrist’s office/pharmacy in the school’s bathroom and helping everyone with problems ranging from depression to breast implants. The service that Charlie runs and his relationship with Susan, and at times her father, are what really drive the movie forward.
The most entertaining parts of this film are the ones in which Anton Yelchin is on screen. His portrayal of Charlie is simply fun to watch. Yelchin manages to do with Bartlett what Broderick did with Bueller. He made him such a charismatic character that you don’t really care what he does, because it’s destined to be enjoyable.
Unfortunately, close to halfway through the movie, the antics that made Yelchin fun to watch start to fade into the distance as the film sacrifices comedy for a more serious tone. While the move seems natural as it fits into the story, it never makes it.
It has an idea, it has a chance to run with it and it just doesn’t follow through. It just wants to tease you with the thought of it. It feels as though Poll was so concerned about the film becoming too serious that he wanted only to dabble in drama, which was a mistake. As “Little Miss Sunshine” or this year’s “Juno” have proven, it’s possible to make a comedy with very real undertones, but “Charlie Bartlett” apparently missed the memo.
The characters in the story also seem to have this same hesitant nature about them. Toward the end of the movie, it seems that almost every major character does a complete 180-degree flip-flop from who they were in the first couple of acts. While this is ultimately what narrative strives for– character change– it seems largely unwarranted and rushed in the film. I almost felt compelled to ask the projectionist if there was a reel missing. This is the main problem with “Charlie Bartlett.” It never quite blossoms into what you expect it to be.
The film isn’t entirely bad, however, as gems can be found within certain scenes. I utterly loved the character Len (Dylan Taylor), a boy Charlie befriends when he unknowingly rides the short-bus to school. Also, the soundtrack to the film was great.
It mixed in indie-music with a more traditional score. Neither aspect was overdone, making for a nice interplay between the two.
Overall, “Charlie Bartlett” is a movie that has its moments, but that’s about it. It fell short of my expectations in its narrative and it came off as sloppy in its writing, as if someone hit the panic button in the last act. The acting is good and the film is short, clocking in at 97 minutes, but there just seems to be something missing. I almost liked it. Almost.
This review was originally published in the Collegiate Times, the student newspaper of Virginia Tech. Read the original publication.