Charlie Bartlett reminds me of a less structured, shatter-brained and aloof version of Juno. Charlie Bartlett starts out with its main character, Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin), being kicked out of a high-end private high school for making and selling fake IDs for fellow classmates. After this expulsion, Charlie has to go to public high school where he is automatically seen as an outsider. The dress jacket with Latin emblem and tie he wears, carrying an attaché case, does not help the situation much at all.
One moment that shines in the film, a hilarious bit involving a try-out for a school play shows off the acting dexterity Yelchin poses. By the way, I looked up “Misadventures of a Teenage Renege” and could not find it. You will know why I looked for it when you see this film. Signing up for the audition and his on-stage performance brings him to the attention of Susan Gardner (Katherine Dennings), whom Charlie eventually develops a relationship with.
When he is prescribed Ritalin for supposedly not paying attention during a therapy session (the therapist believing this to be indicative of a greater underlying problem), it eventually spawns an idea in Charlie’s mind. He uses the pills to forge a key relationship at the beginning of the film and they soon lead to increased popularity, something Charlie Bartlett craves. The Boys Restroom is quickly turned into the Boys Pharmacy, literally. It’s so far-fetched that an illegal high school pharmacy like this could exist, out in the open anyway, but this development is integral to the plot of the Charlie Bartlett.
People begin lining up outside of the bathroom, baring their soul to Charlie, talking about things they haven’t with anyone else. Some receive meds for Bartlett’s business partner and former bully, Murphey Bivens (Tyler Hilton). This pharmacy (and something else I will not reveal) eventually brings Charlie into the cross hairs of his new Principal, Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), a former history teacher that despises his new position as a school administrator.
Charlie Bartlett is two things at once, a comedy and a drama. In this case, the film would have benefited from being one or the other. The film gets serious at times, dealing with real issues of depression, anxiety, teen angst, et cetera but then there are moments of levity that subtract from their substance. Juno’s jokes are more married with the situations at hand, where as in Charlie Bartlett, its like screenwriter Gustin Nash said; “I have a great idea (a joke) for this scene” and then interjected it into the script.
Charlie Bartlett is one of the better teen movies to come down the pipe line in recent years. It’s flawed, it isn’t perfect but tries to be out of the ordinary and succeeds at that a few times. Situations in Charlie Bartlett, like the bathroom confessional/pharmacy are completely far-fetched and unrealistic but entertaining and hilarious to watch at the same time. If you want to watch an excellent teen movie, go see Juno or watch Thirteen. If you want to see a good teen movie, watch Charlie Bartlett.