(No longer in theaters)
Baron Kidd, Sidney Kimmel, David Permut, Jay Roach
Feb 22, 2008
It’s cornball, derivative, and full of clunkers, but the teen comedy Charlie Bartlett has a core of authenticity. It’s an authentic wannabe. The disaffected-rich-kid hero (Anton Yelchin) with the absent dad and kooky narcotized mom (Hope Davis) wants more than anything to be popular—to be loved. So does the movie. The gimmick is that he becomes the school drug dealer—but not of pot or Ecstasy. He sells psychopharmacological drugs he pries from psychiatrists by reciting DSM-IV symptoms. The movie doesn’t begin to get at the deeper meaning of all this—probably for the best. The Elizabeth Wurtzel rewrite would go straight to video.
Gustin Nash’s script works off a good template—bits of the punk-tinged eighties teen anthem Pump Up the Volume and the mighty Rushmore. (The editor turned director, Jon Poll, must like Wes Anderson, too, since he appropriates the twee symmetry.) Like Rushmore, Charlie Bartlett builds to a psychological wrestling match between a young hipster-narcissist and his middle-aged counterpart. The older incarnation is the alcoholic high-school principal and father of Charlie’s girlfriend (the luminous Kat Dennings), and he’s played by Robert Downey Jr. What a stroke of casting: Downey watches a kid in a role he’d have played, a role made for his teenage self. And we watch both the actor and the character struggle to reconcile himself to playing the authority figure—ready or not.