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Charlie Bartlett 

The poster image of Charlie Bartlett in repose, arms folded behind his head, invites comparison to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But the teen movie Charlie Bartlett would rather be Pump Up the Volume. The idea of a high school kid finding out he can be adored by his peers by being nice to everyone is noble enough to take the movie only so far. Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is an extremely rich kid coping with his troubled single mom (Hope Davis). At the same time, he deals with his expulsion from private school by trying to make it big on the public school scene. To escape the school’s bullies, Charlie becomes the unofficial school psychiatrist/prescription drug-dealer. Director Jon Poll’s idea of youth individualism ends up reducing everyone to walking teen crises. The way every student worships Charlie caters, perhaps, to the filmmaker’s fantasies of popularity, while dishonestly implying all teenagers want to open up and gush about how messed up they are. Of course, it’s not nearly that simple. Yelchin has a likable presence, but the movie presents Charlie as if he’s an adult in a kid’s body. Charlie’s business partnership with his punk-tormentor evokes the arty kid’s unlikely friendship with a skinhead in Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). It again shows Poll and screenwriter Gustin Nash’s oversimplification: Bullies are not necessarily the kids with mohawks. These disconnects make Charlie Bartlett insincere---a teen movie seeking approval from adults only.

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Vol 27, No 13
August 22, 2019

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