Charlie Bartlett *** (out of ****)

Director: Jon Poll
Writer: Gustin Nash
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton
Rating: R (language, drug content, and brief nudity)
Running Time: 97 min
Release Date: 2/22/08

The number of psychologically based movies about high school produced by Hollywood leads one to believe that the arts community in general found the high school experience rather unpleasant. Charlie Bartlett is yet another in a long series of teen comedies based on the theme “high school is hell” which is even alluded to in the title of a play written by one of the students.

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is the son of a wealthy family who has been kicked out of multiple private schools. In his last incident it was for producing very high quality fake driver’s licenses to sell to his fellow classmates. As a consequence he lands in public school. However, this doesn’t directly address Charlie’s underlying problem which is the need for to be liked. He really didn’t need the money for the licenses rather he wanted the peer acceptance take came from being the guy who could provide them.

While his initial encounter with the public school system was a little rough, he soon adapts to the reality of the situation. Before long a thug, Murphey Bivens (Tyler Hilton), who beats him up is after their first encounter is working for him. As a consequence of the attack his mother sends Charlie to a psychiatrist who put him on Ritalin. Since the Murphey is also the schools drug dealer, Charlie becomes his supplier selling his prescription medications to his fellow students.

Charlie is a natural psychiatrist and soon is holding meeting with students of both genders in a boy’s bathroom that seeming is never used for its intended purpose. As the he works through their problems, he then engages in doctor shopping on a grand scale by relating the same symptoms to a series of shrinks who dutifully right the appropriate prescriptions.

Charlie’s activities remain largely unnoticed by the alcoholic Principal Gardener (Robert Downey Jr.) until Charlie and Murphy market a DVD of Murphy’s fights with other students. Subsequently, when Charlie starts dating Susan (Kat Dennings), the principal’s daughter, the principle identifies him a target for expulsion. This all come to a head after a student over does on drugs supplied by Charlie’s operation and a student protest over the installation of video camera in the student lounge gives Gardner the pretext to act.

Charlie Bartlett is a thoughtful teen comedy. It certainly isn’t a typical coarse “vulgarity a second” variety. Obviously the scenarios presented aren’t realistic. No public high school is so far out of control that an operator such as Charlie could really set up his psychiatric practice in boy’s room, etc. It takes a balanced view of the classic adult vs. youth conflict. No new profound truths are revealed but it doesn’t present a fun slant on all of the old ones.

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