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Anton Yelchin ………. Charlie Bartlett
Robert Downey Jr. ………. Principal Gardner
Hope Davis ………. Marilyn Bartlett
Kat Dennings ………. Susan Gardner
Tyler Hilton ………. Murphey Bivens
Mark Rendall ………. Kip Crombwell
Dylan Taylor ………. Len Arbuckle
Megan Park ………. Whitney Drummond
Jake Epstein ………. Dustin Lauderbach
Jonathan Malen ………. Jordan Sunder
The one thing that’s most fascinating about Charlie Bartlett isn’t the titular character, played by Anton Yelchin, nor is it his love interest Susan (Kat Dennings). It’s not the look at the use of prescription drugs amongst teenagers, either, but it is interesting how the film short-shrifts that angle. It’s the sight of Robert Downey Jr. playing a recovering alcoholic who’s relapsed. Downey, who has had a storied history of substance abuse issues, is a bit off-putting as a recovering alcoholic principal if only because the part seems a bit of art imitating life. Considering he’s also playing another recovering alcoholic in Tony Stark for Iron Man, it’s risky territory but somehow Downey Jr. has the sort of fortitude to be able to confront his demons on screen in a lackluster teen comedy.
Charlie Bartlett follows the tale of the title character, a high school delinquent who finds himself at the end of the road: public school. Having been expelled from virtually every major private school, Charlie finds himself at his last stop in the educational chain. Virtually an adult because of his years spent handling the mental shenanigans of his mother (Hope Davis), Charlie seemingly has a scheme for every place he goes to. After facing an expulsion from making fake driver’s licenses, he decides to become the Mr. Universe of pharmaceutical sales by becoming the de facto psychiatrist of his new high school. With fame there are consequences, as his newfound popularity isn’t without its downside. It’s a unique look at the high school comedy that tries to walk that fine line between being a raunchy sex comedy and an intelligent teen comedy and doesn’t accomplish either. Instead, it tends to wallow in both.
The film has plenty of dark moments and moments that make you pause in reflection, but unfortunately the film doesn’t go far enough. There is plenty of material to mine through in the subject matter, as well as plenty of obvious gags in terms of the sex gags, but the film tries too hard to keep it equal. It doesn’t embrace ether of the two options available, leaving it at a mediocrity the film settles for. Yelchin seems to be game for either option, bringing a charm to the role that’s needed to keep it interesting, but ultimately the film’s script is more lackluster than blockbuster. Its easy to see why the film has had its release date changed several times.
It’s a shame because Downey steals every scene he is in and really does wonders for the film. The character is relatively complex for the genre and requires a delicate hand. Downey is marvelous in the role; it would be easy for him to mail it in, especially considering that the film will probably be something not associated with his career immediately, but it’s something for him to bring out one of his better performances of the last several years. There’s a genuine sympathy for the man, who wants to be a good father and a good school principal.
Charlie Bartlett is another throwaway comedy in a throwaway time of the movie season. On a weekend with the Academy Awards on the horizon, it’s the type of movie that won’t take any attention away from the biggest night of the year for film.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):