Kicked out of his latest boarding school for entrepreneurial ingenuity (he made fake IDs), Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finally makes his way to public school. His mother (Hope Davis), medicated into oblivion, thinks it will be a perfect outlet for his creativity. As if it weren't written on the wall, Bartlett can only find friends on the short bus and other clique-less annals of the teenage population. That is until he finds the blessings of prescription narcotics and the passivity of modern adults towards their children's problems.
Embraced by the school's alt-hottie (Kat Dennings), in cahoots with the school bully (Tyler Hilton), and despised by the suicidal principal (an unconvincingly-restrained Robert Downey Jr.), Bartlett becomes a hero for all the disillusioned youth of America. This is all well and good until (knowledge is power) a kid tries to overdose on the pills he scored from Charlie. Then Bartlett suddenly becomes a champion of self-confidence and self-enlightenment.
There is a moment of interest in Bartlett's rambling, mundane narrative that caught me as witty but was so fleeting that I dismissed it: the honest-to-God truth that most of today's youth are happier stoned or gonzoed-out on uppers and downers, but that drugs as a suburban escape stop working as soon as a kid tries to commit suicide. Note to screenwriter Gustin Nash: Suicides at school, attempted or fulfilled, tend to lead to more drugs, not less.
There have been Matzah crackers that show more excitement than perennial teen workhorse Anton Yelchin, but you can blame neither him nor the rest of the cast for the deeply-rooted flaws here. Aesthetically, there's nothing remotely interesting about Poll's film and Nash's script, a monolith of faulty teenage stereotypes, which leaves his characters severely lacking without even a note of honesty. You find me one teenager who would feel better about getting beat up at school as long as it was videotaped and sold for ten dollars a pop, and I will single-handedly raise the Lusitania.
If one needed further proof that Ferris Bueller is dead, Bartlett closes the case but good. How is it that almost every film about teenagers is either sanitized to the point of fetidity (Hilary Duff) or so overbearingly crass that it borders on leering (Larry Clarke)? Fear not: Gus Van Sant returns to the hallways with Paranoid Park, one of the indisputable masterpieces of this year, in two weeks. It won't take nearly that long for a throwaway like Bartlett to clear the American mindset.
Teenage suicide. Don't do it.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd February 2008
Box Office USA: $3.7M
Distributed by: MGM
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 57
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Jon Poll
Screenwriter: Gustin Nash
Starring: Anton Yelchin as Charlie Bartlett, Robert Downey Jr. as Nathan Gardner, Hope Davis as Marilyn Bartlett, Kat Dennings as Susan Gardner, Tyler Hilton as Murphy Bivens, Mark Rendall as Kip Crombwell, Dylan Taylor as Len Arbuckle, Megan Park as Whitney Drummond, Jake Epstein as Dustin Lauderbach, Jonathan Malen as Jordan Sunder, Derek McGrath as Superintendent Sedgwick, Stephen Young as Dr. Stan Weathers, Ishan Davé as Henry Freemont, Dave Brown as Officer Hansen, Eric Fink as Thomas, Noam Jenkins as Dean West, Lauren Collins as Kelly, Annick Obonsawin as Daisy, Sarah Gadon as Priscilla, Aubrey Graham as A/V Jones, Michael D'Ascenzo as Scott, Dwane McLean as Bus Driver, Quancetia Hamilton as Mrs. Albertson, Richard Alan Campbell as Dr. Sam Costell, Kim Roberts as Dr. Linda Jenkins, David Fraser as Dr. Jacob Kaufmann, Marvin Karon as Dr. P. Sarossy, Brendan Murray as Dorm Head, Abigail Bernardez as Cheerleader #1, Laura Jeanes as Cheerleader #2, Annamaria Janice McAndrew as Cheerleader #3, Amelia Tenttave as Len's Girlfriend #1, Annabelle Singson as Len's Girlfriend #2, Julia Cohen as Receptionist, Abby Zotz as Kip's Mom, Maddy Wilde as Spiral Beach Band Member, Dorian Wolf as Spiral Beach Band Member, Airick Woodhead as Spiral Beach Band Member, Daniel Woodhead as Spiral Beach Band Member
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