Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Relive your teenage years

The film, Charlie Bartlett is your average teen

Published: March 14, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse-city-3-14-08_page_1_image_0003.jpgBack in high school (if you can still remember those good old days) teachers, parents, and those who wanted to relive their “past glories” were gladly willing to offer advice about school. The proffered advice usually glorified the four years spent running from class to class, from after-school activities to after-school help sessions in math, all in hopes of eventually one day making it into an institution of higher learning.

What their advice failed to convey was just how hard and difficult it often felt not to know who you were – – let alone where your niche was. Were you the jock? The nerd? Or maybe you thought you were the princess.

The truth is that no real high school student would ever have felt comfortable associating with the stereotypical denizens of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club. High school, however scary it may have been, was about learning who you were as a person and trying to cope with the daily challenges.

Jon Poll’s Charlie Bartlett is the story of Charlie Bartlett (mind boggling, isn’t it?), who more than anything wants the kind of popularity for which everyone in high school yearns. Bartlett’s mother, a pleasantly funny Hope Davis, enrolls her misguided but sweet son in public school after his expulsion from private school.

After the customary hazing that is always written into movies but never really happens, Charlie befriends the bully (in case you were wondering, this does not happen in real life) who looks ten years older than any real high school student does (which is always the case in movies about teenagers).

Aligned with an enforcer, Charlie then becomes the self-appointed psychiatrist of the high school. Despite its lack of originality, the groundwork for a cute film is established. Why then does the movie suffer? Like a high school teenager, the movie is still in search of itself, trying to figure out who it is.


Alton Yelchin’s excellent performance as Charlie Bartlett reminds the viewer of Matthew Broderick’s role as the title character in another (and better) John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yelchin is funny when he needs to be comedic and heartbreaking when necessary. However, it is these changes in the movie’s tone that disturb the viewer.

What is natural and realistic for a teenager to feel and experience does not work for a movie about teenagers. In other words, what is acceptable for an adolescent in high school (not knowing exactly who you are, for example) does not work for a movie. While Charlie Bartlett is clearly at times a likable throwback to the 80’s movies about teenagers, the film can get irritatingly depressing very quickly (I’m looking at you, Robert Downey Jr.).

Often when I watch movies about high school, I shake my head and say, “They got it all wrong.” The characters are one-dimensional, the plots are generic, and the screenwriters can’t remember their high school days.

What is different about Charlie Bartlett is not so much the story taking place on the screen, but what the movie itself appears to be. Charlie Bartlett, the movie, is just like a teenager, who doesn’t know who he is or who he wants to be. Nevertheless, the viewer accepts and even enjoys the film just as a parent would his teenager.