out of Five
Running time: 96
Hugely entertaining high school drama with a delightfully offbeat script and terrific performances from a superb cast.
What's it all about?
Anton Yelchin plays Charlie Bartlett, a likeable student who's thrown out of the latest in a series of prep schools for making fake IDs for his classmates. His wealthy, medicated mother Marilyn (Hope Davis) sends him to the local high school where he's soon getting beaten to a pulp by frustrated bully Murphy (Tyler Hilton).
However, Charlie is nothing if not enterprising and he persuades Murphy to join him in a lucrative psychiatry-slash-pharmacy service, conducted from a stall in the boys' toilet. This brings him to the attention of the stressed-out principal, Nathan (Robert Downey Jr), who doesn't take kindly to Charlie's burgeoning relationship with his daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings).
Anton Yelchin is terrific as Charlie, delivering a sweet-natured performance that works beautifully. He's brilliantly supported by Kat Dennings, who gets to make more of the girlfriend role than just the token love interest and turns Susan into a character you really care about.
Downey Jr is on reliably good form as borderline alcoholic Nathan (Downey Jr seems to be the go-to guy for borderline alcoholics these days), while Tyler Hilton makes a memorable impression as Murphy and Hope Davis steals every scene she's in as Charlie's mother.
There are elements of several smart high school movies here, from Rushmore to Election and Pump Up The Volume and yet Charlie Bartlett never feels derivative. This is largely due to a superb script that is packed with great dialogue and weirdly offbeat scenes (such as Charlie's hilarious theatre audition or Murphy's date with a cheerleader).
In addition, the film manages to address serious themes without resorting to preachiness or sentimentality – it's particularly interesting that the film pulls off an entire father issues sub-plot without even casting someone as Charlie's jailbird dad.
In short, Charlie Bartlett is a hugely enjoyable high school drama with an original, cliche-defying script and terrific performances from its colourful cast. Highly recommended.