A hot-ticket item at last year's Tribeca Film Festival and subsequently picked up by the Weinstein Company, Jon Poll
's plodding Charlie Bartlett has the gumption to suggest, and then confirm the fact, that rich people, especially rich white kids under 18, have all the answers, and that it is quite foolish to think otherwise.
Kicked out of his latest boarding school for entrepreneurial ingenuity (he made fake IDs), Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin
) finally makes his way to public school. His mother (Hope Davis
), medicated into oblivion, thinks it will be a perfect outlet for his creativity. As if it weren't written on the wall, Bartlett can only find friends on the short bus and other clique-less annals of the teenage population. That is until he finds the blessings of prescription narcotics and the passivity of modern adults towards their children's problems. Article continues below
Embraced by the school's alt-hottie (Kat Dennings
), in cahoots with the school bully (Tyler Hilton
), and despised by the suicidal principal (an unconvincingly-restrained Robert Downey Jr.
), Bartlett becomes a hero for all the disillusioned youth of America. This is all well and good until (knowledge is power) a kid tries to overdose on the pills he scored from Charlie. Then Bartlett suddenly becomes a champion of self-confidence and self-enlightenment.
There is a moment of interest in Bartlett's rambling, mundane narrative that caught me as witty but was so fleeting that I dismissed it: the honest-to-God truth that most of today's youth are happier stoned or gonzoed-out on uppers and downers, but that drugs as a suburban escape stop working as soon as a kid tries to commit suicide. Note to screenwriter Gustin Nash: Suicides at school, attempted or fulfilled, tend to lead to more drugs, not less.
There have been Matzah crackers that show more excitement than perennial teen workhorse Anton Yelchin, but you can blame neither him nor the rest of the cast for the deeply-rooted flaws here. Aesthetically, there's nothing remotely interesting about Poll's film and Nash's script, a monolith of faulty teenage stereotypes, which leaves his characters severely lacking without even a note of honesty. You find me one teenager who would feel better about getting beat up at school as long as it was videotaped and sold for ten dollars a pop, and I will single-handedly raise the Lusitania.
If one needed further proof that Ferris Bueller is dead, Bartlett closes the case but good. How is it that almost every film about teenagers is either sanitized to the point of fetidity (Hilary Duff) or so overbearingly crass that it borders on leering (Larry Clarke)? Fear not: Gus Van Sant returns to the hallways with Paranoid Park, one of the indisputable masterpieces of this year, in two weeks. It won't take nearly that long for a throwaway like Bartlett to clear the American mindset.