Charlie Bartlett (2007)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Teen Movie  |   Release Date - Feb 22, 2008 (USA)  |   Run Time - 97 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Naming a film after the main character usually means one of two things: 1) They didn't have any better ideas, which should alert viewers to the potential for further creative bankruptcy; 2) They wanted to reward the screenwriter for thinking up a snappy moniker. The trailers for Charlie Bartlett made it seem like a case of #2, hammering home the character's name and prepping audiences for a prep school movie somewhere between Rushmore and Running With Scissors on the eccentricity scale. But Charlie Bartlett is actually a deceptively straightforward teen movie, coming closer to Pump Up the Volume, with the world's nicest ne'er-do-well (Anton Yelchin) ministering to his classmates through amateur psychiatry in the boys' bathroom, rather than a pirate radio show. Yelchin's warm acting style exudes the enthusiasm and vocal mannerisms of a child, and though this is far less sophisticated work than he did in Alpha Dog, it's a winning performance. Equally compelling is Kat Dennings as his love interest, a sassy spitfire similar in temperament to her role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The older characters don't fare quite so well -- Hope Davis' Mrs. Bartlett is so underwritten, all she can do is contribute aimless loopiness, and Robert Downey Jr., the should-be-cool principal, ends up displaying personality issues far more alarming than those of his students. While the premise is pretty thin -- how could Charlie dispense advice to a whole queue of prospective "patients" without attracting attention? -- the movie's heart is in the right place, wiping out some of its flaws. Charlie Bartlett also manages a somewhat incisive commentary on teenagers' increasing reliance on (and ease of getting) prescribed pharmaceuticals.