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Hey, Darlin's, MG here with a present for y'all, another fabulous review from our dearest acolyte, Ms. Dollie Banner. Bask in the glow of her esteem for Charlie Bartlett.


   We all know that the January-February movie release slate is littered with junky titles the studios have no faith in. So I was a little uneasy this week heading into Charlie Bartlett, a movie whose trailer I'd seen numerous times as long as 10 months ago. How bad must this film be to be pushed this far back? Expecting the answer to be a complete mess, I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet, funny and engaging film that greeted me.

   Charlie Bartlett, played by Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog), tells the story of the titular character, a mischievous teenager who finds himself attending public school for the first time after numerous
failed stints at posh private institutions. A habitual outcast, Charlie is completely out of his element in the coarse and diverse world of plebeian high school. His preppy clothes and peppy attitude make him the prime target of school bully Murphy, played Tyler Hilton, best known for his turn as Elvis in Walk the Line. The resourceful Charlie soon enlists Murphy in a business scheme, parlaying his access to psychiatric drugs into a makeshift bathroom clinic. The unlikely duo finds unexpected acceptance dolling out advice and pills to the diverse student body. Charlie forges an especially strong rapport with the cool and lovely Susan (40-Year-Old Virgin's Kat Dennings), but must face a new nemesis in her father, Principal Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.)

   Charlie Bartlett marks the first time effort of both screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll, and while some of their inexperience shows in the uneven finished film, they have together 
crafted a witty and just plain likable movie that both references and resembles classics of the genre such as My Bodyguard and Sixteen Candles. Nash was blatantly inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time, Harold and Maude, fashioning Charlie as similarly wealthy kid stranded in a vast estate with his oblivious mother, played here by Hope Davis, as a clueless but goodhearted woman overwhelmed by her responsibilities. Nash and Poll even go so far as to snitch Harold and Maude's signature Cat Steven's tune, "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" to underscore pivotal moments. While Charlie Bartlett lacks the inventive style of the earlier film, with Charlie they have created a character whose ultimate message of inclusivity and acceptance is a nice addition to the pantheon of smart-aleck heroes. Yelchin steps up to his first leading performance with assuredness; investing Charlie with a charming mix of eagerness and chutzpah. The rest of the cast is equally engaging. Kat Dennings has a low-key authenticity that makes her a refreshingly modern pick to play the female love interest in a teen film. She plays excellently off both Yelchin and Downey, Jr., who offers up yet another pitch perfect and effortlessly natural performance. Maybe it's because he often plays my favorite type of character, a cocky but world-weary know-it-all, but Robert Downey, Jr. is almost always the most compelling performer in all of the projects he's a part of and this is no exception. I was also impressed by Hilton, perhaps because he was so foxy with his mohawk and leather jacket. He reminded me strongly of Elias Koteas' classic turn as Duncan in Some Kind of Wonderful. Not too bad, Tyler. The Canadian-based production also affords supporting roles to some of my favorite young Canuck actors.  Veteran child actor Mark Rendall, who played the lead in Don McKellar's Child Star a few years back, gives a very different and sympathetic performance here as the 
severely depressed Kip Crombwell. As a bonus a trio of actors from Degrassi High: The Next Generation, Jake Epstein (Craig), Lauren Collins (Paige) and Aubrey Graham (Jimmy) drop in to fill out Charlie's clientele.

   I can see why MGM felt this film might flounder in the slew of Oscar worthy fall films, but hopefully Charlie Bartlett the movie takes a page from the character and finds an audience and acceptance this winter.


~ Dollie Banner

Feb. 23rd, 2008



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