Movie review: “Charlie Bartlett”

Not normally a fan of American high school movies because they are often filled with infantile slapstick humour (Americans seem to have a particular fondness for those idiotic food fights), I was pleasantly surprised by Charlie Bartlett.

This 2007 comedy stars Anton Yelchin as the teenage high school student of the title. Charlie appears to come from a wealthy family, which lives in a huge house and has a chauffeur-driven limousine. His mother Marilyn is a bit spaced-out but clearly very fond of her off-beat son, who repeatedly gets into trouble and has been kicked out of numerous private schools. The father is absent for the entire movie, having been sentenced to a prison term for tax evasion. Charlie has thus taken upon himself the role of ‘man of the house’, trying his best to look after his mother.

Anyhow, Charlie ends up going to a public co-ed high school, where he quite literally sticks out like a sore thumb with his formal blazer, neatly pressed trousers, and attache case (!). His polite behaviour and his witty retorts don’t exactly make a good first impression on his fellow students. Undeterred, he starts making friends by simply being his eccentric and perceptive self.

At no time does one get the feeling that he is manipulating the people around him: rather, he radiates warmth and genuine caring. His psychological insights into the emotional problems of his class mates are quite surprising for a teenager. He becomes the unofficial psychologist of the school, holding funny-wise consultations in the boys’ lavatory, and supplementing these sessions with psychiatric drugs that he has obtained (for himself) from his family’s on-call psychiatrist.

He also falls in love, with the principal’s daughter Susan, which is when things get really interesting. Principal Nathan Gardner, played with consummate perfection by Robert Downey Jr (melt…. goosh…) has serious problems of his own, among which are the fact that his wife has left him for another man, that his daughter does not respect him, discipline problems at the school,… and now, of course, Charlie’s ‘drug trade’ – compounded by the fact that Charlie is going out with Susan.

It was a surprisingly good movie. And RDJ is most definitely very, very, VERY watchable as a slightly cooky alcoholic school principal. 🙂

  • The official trailer is on YouTube: Trailer
  • This is a very positive review in the Irish Times: Review

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Other movies we’ve watched in June: 

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