Charlie Bartlett – Jon Poll, 2007
Netflix rates it: 3.5/5
I rate it: 4/5
Jon Poll’s Charlie Bartlett follows titular character Charlie (Anton Yelchin), an intelligent and slightly eccentric teenage boy, as he attempts to befriend the student body at his new school. After being expelled from multiple private schools, he enrols in a local public school and immediately finds it difficult to make friends due to his obvious differences. Things start looking up, though, once he realises that teaming up with the school rebel (Tyler Hilton) and selling prescription drugs to fellow pupils puts him in people’s good books. Alongside this, he attempts to maintain a relationship with his mother (Hope Davis) and develops a confrontational relationship with the school’s principal (Robert Downey Jr.) due to his problematic behaviour and growing relationship with the principal’s daughter Susan (Kat Dennings).
The plot overview might make Charlie seem dislikeable, but his character is actually really easy to like. Despite the fact that what he’s doing is clearly morally wrong, he seems to care about his fellow students, even acting as a psychiatrist for them to speak to in his makeshift office (aka the boys’ bathroom). He’s nice to people regardless of who they are or where they fit with the other students, and his eccentricity allows him to carry the storyline and makes him interesting for the audience to watch.
It is interesting to see Robert Downey Jr. in an independent film, and he gives an impressive performance as a depressed principal who doesn’t seem to care much about his school or students, and becomes intent on keeping Charlie from dating his daughter. Anton Yelchin also provides a standout performance in Charlie Bartlett, giving Charlie just the right amount of intelligence and confidence and not dumbing the character down due to his young age. He also shows such great enthusiasm in his role, and it’s hard not to enjoy watching him on-screen. In fact, the whole cast, despite being young and portraying even younger characters, play their roles memorably.
It is unfortunate that Charlie Bartlett becomes less interesting partway through, as there seem to be multiple storylines that start off really well but lose direction as the film progresses. Some minor storylines, such as the placement of cameras in the student lounge and the subsequent protests by the students, fall by the wayside so much it almost seems unnecessary to include them in the first place. Additionally, what starts off as a really novel plot turns quite generic at times, which is slightly disappointing, though it remains an entertaining film despite this.
Although Charlie Bartlett isn’t exactly a ‘new’ independent film anymore (it’s 9 years old!), it’s definitely still worth watching. With strangely likeable characters despite their obvious flaws, and a refreshing, interesting plot, it’s a film that should definitely be given a chance if you’re feeling in the mood for something you don’t have to think about too much.
Oh, and look out for a brief surprise appearance from Drake!