The Great ‘Charlie Bartlett’

Who ever said you can’t buy friends? Well, as seventeen-year-old Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds out, popularity isn’t as “priceless” as the MasterCard commercials would have you believe.

The film, “Charlie Bartlett,” follows a wealthy, enterprising teenager and his quest to be well-liked. When no fancy prep school would take him anymore (the last one expelled him for creating and distributing fake I.D.’s), Charlie is sent to public school — where he gets beat up. That is, until he discovers that obtaining and dealing prescription medications (from Ritalin to Xanax) — and giving advice to other misunderstood, teenagers — can become quite a lucrative business.

For playing a posh, rich kid, Anton Yelchin is quite earnest and likeable as Charlie Bartlett. Perhaps it’s his friendly smile and the manner and number of times in which he would repeat, “Hi, I’m Charlie.” (If Yelchin wasn’t quite so charming and charismatic, he might be mistaken for remedial.) Or perhaps it’s how he could seamlessly rattle off Latin and French; sing and play the piano; and recite a monologue of how he got his period. Yelchin is like the “Great Gatsby” from Nick Carraway’s eyes (only Yelchin doesn’t call everyone, “old sport.”) He’s talented, excelling in the ability of making the audience feel empathy for a poor, rich kid. He has this boyish, All-American, Tom Sawyer quality about him — that if you talked to him long enough, he could probably get you to whitewash the white-picket fence for him. Yet at the same time, Yelchin can be very mature, offering proper insight and sage advice on the inner workings of the teenaged mind.

Yelchin, and the excellent actors in the cast, carry the film. Robert Downey Jr. is the antagonistic Principal Rooney character to Yechin’s Ferris Bueller. However, Downey Jr., as Principal Gardner, brings very real issues (like depression and alcoholism) to this Wiley E. Coyote/Roadrunner relationship. Hope Davis, who is most recently known for playing tabloid writer Nina Harper in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” is also excellent as Yelchin’s flighty mother who’s been depressed since her husband went to jail. The rest of the characters also hit their notes (i.e. Tyler Hilton of “One Tree Hill” fame resembles “Glee”‘s bully Noah Puckerman, played by Mark Sailing; while Kat Dennings has this Drew Barrymore, girl next door quality about her), but aren’t as memorable next to Yelchin, Downey Jr. and Davis’ nuanced performances.

The juxtaposition of the charm and sincerity of the film brings the playful and deeper nature of “Charlie Bartlett” to life. Director Jon Poll’s film captures some of the themes and nostalgia of John Hughes’ classics. “Charlie Bartlett” seems to be a cross between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club,” portraying Yelchin as a trouble-making Ferris Bueller-type character, while showing that its OK for teenagers to break away from their stereotypical cliques. (For example, the football captain really wants to go to Paris and study art, while the school bully wants to take the most popular girl in school to a dinner and movie.) And although popularity isn’t priceless, perhaps being able to talk to someone about your problems is.

“Charlie Bartlett” was written by Gustin Nash and directed by Jon Poll.

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