Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) has been kicked out of so many posh prep schools that the only thing left to try is the local public school. At first, he shows up wearing his prep school blazer and carrying an attaché case, but he soon learns — around the time that a Mohawk-haired bully gives him a swirly — that this is not the way to fit in. And it only takes him a little bit longer to discover that he has what it takes to become truly popular: the willingness to listen to kids and the access to a wide range of prescription psychotropic drugs.
Charlie’s popularity is a concern to the harried principal (Robert Downey, Jr.), especially after Charlie attracts the attention of the principal’s daughter (Kat Dennings). And Charlie has some issues of his own to resolve. He will not speak to his father and feels responsible for his mother (Hope Davis), whose devotion to him is is lost in a mist of pharmaceuticals and alcohol.
The movie’s release was delayed and it feels like it has been recut, perhaps with some scenes eliminated. The flow and tone of the story are uneven, as though it could not decide if it wanted Charlie to be Ferris Bueller or Holden Caulfield. The performances are lovely, especially Dennings and the always-terrific Davis and Downey. The film’s message about the way that listening and being listened to are essential and life-changing is honest and touching. But it runs out of ideas and the conclusion feels rushed. Like the main character, the film should have had more faith in itself.
Parents should know that this movie features a character who lies and cheats, including lying in order to get prescription drugs and then passes them out to his schoolmates. There is adult and teenage smoking and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Characters use very strong language. There are sexual references and situations and some brief nudity. A character brandishes a gun and there are bullies who beat up other students.
Families who see this movie should talk about what makes high school such a difficult place for teenagers — and such a fruitful setting for books and movies. How did Charlie take care of his mother and how did that influence his wanting to take care of other people?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rushmore and Rocket Science.