At the end of 2008, I thought about writing a blog post titled, “The Top 10 Movies That Weren’t on Anyone’s Top 10 List”. Charlie Bartlett would have been #1 on that list.
Charlie Bartlett not a new movie. It came out over a year ago. But I recently got a hold of it in the 4 for $20 bin at Blockbuster, rewatched it, and uncovered some new insights.
Charlie Bartlett stars Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog, upcoming Star Trek) as the titular character – a wealthy teenager who craves companionship (ala Richie Rich). After being expelled from his prestigious private school he enrolls at a public high school. His natural desire to help people leads him to begin offering amateur psychiatric interviews and illegal pharmaceuticals to his classmates. He befriends Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings – The 40 Year Old Virgin, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and makes quick enemies of her father, Principal Gardner, played by Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man, Tropic Thunder).
On the surface, Charlie Bartlett is about teen angst. We’ve had plenty of movies about teeangers hating their lives and fearing for the future, but Charlie Bartlett approached it a little differently. At times, the dialogue is somewhat reminiscent of Juno – the teenagers talk like adults think teenagers talk. Classmate relationships are similar – obviously stylized for the big screen. In a real high school, there would be no student riots, because there wouldn’t be any one issue that more than a handful of students felt that strongly about. Students would never band together under a common banner, because high school is the most cliquey environment known to man.
Yet beneath the fictitious relationships and imagined behaviors, there is genuine truth to the movie. Charlie’s beginning and final monologues includes the assurance, “You are not alone.” – perhaps the most important message high school students need to hear. Early in the movie, Charlie’s mother assures him that there is more to high school than popularity, but is unable to think of any examples. Later, Principal Gardner informs him that what is more important than popularity is what you do with that popularity.
I don’t know if it’s puberty, unreasonable expectations, or shifting lifestyles, but whatever the cause, high school is hell. Charlie Bartlett captures that. Teenagers spend so much time trying to fit into their idea of “normal” that they don’t realize that there is no such thing as “normal”.
Charlie Bartlett depicts a clearly fictitious high school populated by imaginary teenagers, but beneath the quirky dialogue and moral ambiguity there are glimpses of what high school is really like. Charlie Bartlett delivers a meaningful message, and is definitely worth watching.