Every generation needs a rebellious teen of the cinema (or two or three) -- the Eighties have Ferris Bueller, for instance -- and while director Jon Poll and screenwriter Gustin Nash would very much love for Charlie Bartlett to fill the void in the '00s, there's just too much familiar and not enough fresh to justify anointing Mr. Bartlett as the patron cinematic saint of restless, angsty youth. That said, Charlie Bartlett is a fun, occasionally quirky stroll down some very well-trod paths -- while the movie doesn't break any ground, it does manage to make your viewing experience enjoyable.
Anton Yelchin stars as the titular Bartlett, a troubled youth bounced almost every private school in existence, whose rich mother Marilyn (a wonderfully scattered Hope Davis) spends her days self-medicated and treating her son more as an equal than a child. For his part, Charlie -- desperate to fit in with his peers and tired of being expelled -- wants to settle in at Western Summit High, a public school and his latest stop.
He hits upon a unique method of ingratiation: Opening a makeshift psychiatry clinic in the men's room, offering up free advice and liberal dosages of everything from Adderall to Zoloft. Having befriended Murphey (Tyler Hilton), a bully-turned-business partner, Charlie soon has the school on his side, much to the consternation of the relatively laid-back Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.).
The narrative hits a lot of predictable beats -- Charlie falls in love with Susan (Kat Dennings), who just happens to be the principal's daughter; Charlie singlehandedly empowers the student body to rise up and make its voice heard about intrusive security cameras; the principal and Charlie find they have more in common than it would seem -- but Poll and his excellent cast manage to wring a few moments of genuine charm out of the proceedings. Charlie Bartlett struggles a bit, particularly in the final 20 minutes, as it tries to inject some pathos into what has, up until that point, been a relatively frothy affair. It's because of some great work from Yelchin, Downey and Davis that the viewer isn't left deflated.
While Ferris Bueller wreaked havoc, he certainly didn't do it by handing out fistfuls of pharmaceuticals -- in that respect, Charlie Bartlett is an updated riff on that timeless Hollywood tradition: the mischievous, endearing teen. In many others, Charlie's just another in a long line of rebels without any real cause, raging against the machine because it's the thing to do, not necessarily because they have anything meaningful to say.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer cannot be accurately judged owing to MGM's supplying a screener disc rather than final product. Plenty of smearing, pixelation and motion blur are evident throughout the entire film, as well as a 20th Century Fox watermark obscuring portions of the image. I'm assuming that this disc is a "flipper," with a 1.33:1 fullscreen image on the reverse side, since it's alluded to in the bonus features section; the disc provided for review was single-sided, so no opinion can be offered on the fullscreen transfer either. Should final product be provided to DVD Talk, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the widescreen image.
As with the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds pretty solid, conveying dialogue and score with no discernible problem, but an accurate assessment cannot be made, owing to the fact that MGM supplied a screener, rather than final product. An optional Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo track is included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles. Should MGM provide a retail version of Charlie Bartlett for consideration, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the soundtrack.
A bit slim, but that's probably due to the film's sub-par performance at the box office: Director Poll sits for a relaxed, light-hearted commentary track with actors Yelchin and Dennings; in the early going, he alludes to another commentary track (ostensibly on the fullscreen side), but again, having only the single-sided screener, I can't speak to who participates in that track or if there are any other supplements on that side. The only other widescreen-side bonus feature is a three minute music video for Spiral Beach's "Voodoo," presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Should a final version of the DVD be provided, I'll update this section with any additional bonuses.
While Ferris Bueller wreaked havoc, he certainly didn't do it by handing out fistfuls of pharmaceuticals -- in that respect, Charlie Bartlett is an updated riff on that timeless Hollywood tradition: the mischievous, endearing teen. In many others, Charlie's just another in a long line of rebels without any real cause, raging against the machine because it's the thing to do, not necessarily because they have anything meaningful to say. The winning performances from Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis are easily worth giving this a spin. Recommended.