“Charlie Bartlett” begins as a typical coming-of-age teen comedy, but by the second act it’s obvioulsy an original idea with some clever dialogue and standout performances. In some ways it is reminiscent of “Juno.”
Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is a wealthy kid being raised by his often-clueless mother (Hope Davis). When he gets kicked out of his posh private school for making illegal driver’s licenses for the students, her only comment is what a good job he did.
Mom insists that Charlie now attend public school. He arrives like a soft sponge in a sea of scouring pads, stepping from his limo in his preppie jacket and carrying an attache case. But he’s a bright young man and has the ability to soak up the atmosphere around him. In a matter of days Charlie becomes the “man on campus.”
How does he accomplish this? Charlie has been seeing a shrink for some time. In fact, in one session the therapist advises him to act more normal in order to fit in and Charlie replies, “My family has a psychiatrist on retainer. What’s normal about that?”
The lad plows through psychology books and sets up a practice in the boy’s bathroom where he sits in one stall while students of both sexes stream in to take the stall next to him and hear his words of wisdom.
Charlie is irresponsible (in a bit of satire, he starts selling perscription drugs) but he is also suave, savvy and mild mannered.
The script by new screenwriter Gustin Nash is very clever, especially in developing Charlie’s character. While Charlie walks though life exceptionally cheerfully and seeming to be impenetrable, at his core he’s really in turmoil about his missing father; a subplot revealed near the end of the movie.
Granted, there are some cliche moments, but the film’s combined intelligence and humor really work. This is a movie older teens and parents can see together, a rare thing today. The film received an “R” rating, so it’s not for everyone, but it takes the reality of today’s teen culture and offers reflections of how these situations might be resolved. And let’s face it; we can all use some genuine laughs these days.