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Anton Yelchin and Kat Dennings in 'Charlie Bartlett'

"Charlie Bartlett"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude

"Harold and Maude" fans might have a little something to perk them up with a new film called, "Charlie Bartlett." And how can we forget Hal Ashby's 1971 cult classic to (just about) end all cult classics that tells the story of a morbid teenager and his love affair with a life-loving 75 year old woman? Ah yes, "Harold and Maude," (Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon) unforgettable, and remembered by me as I sat watching "Charlie Bartlett."

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) comes from a well-to-do family (just like Harold). He (like Harold) has been kicked out of a number of private schools as we pick up on his being plunked into, of all things, a PUBLIC high school. Doing this deed is Charlie's exceedingly eccentric mother (much like Harold's), played right-on by a most savvy Hope Davis.

Charlie is smart like Harold, but cheerily, not as morbid. In fact, Chuck is quite the social gadfly (unlike Harold) and loaded with entrepreneurial gumption.

Following his initiation into the realm of education for the plebian, Charlie, in all his perspicacity, begins to read the desperation within his fellow classmates, whatever their social status.

Soon he's dispensing (read: selling) not only psychological advice to other students in the boys' restroom but the meds prescribed him by the expensive shrink retained for him by self-centered mama. Prozac Nation, arise!

You do see the parallel here between Charlie and Bud Cort's Harold of 1971, don't you?

Both young and talented, they are, in many ways, well 'ahead' of the adults around them. Or to put it another way: experience their reality completely differently than their elders. Even though it's a hackneyed conceit, many laughs are gleaned from this circumstance in a debuting feature script by Gustin Nash.

That's especially so when Charlie begins a budding romance with a fellow student named, Susan Gardner (The fetching Kat Dennings has the role.) Susan just happens to be the high school principal's teenaged daughter. Another Prozac, maybe?

On its face, this seems pretty funny, too, but think how more humorous it has to get with the high school principal being played by Robert Downey, Jr.!

Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey, Jr.
Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey, Jr.

You could say that Mr. Downey is playing against type here as an institutional disciplinarian. However, as the film moves along, it becomes clear that Principal Gardner has issues of his own that Mr. Downey's persona and talent more closely embrace.

"Charlie Bartlett," well-directed in debut by Jon Poll, provides many chuckles that are laced with poignancy and the darker shades of irony.

The front-line cast does a stand-up job, especially young Yelchin, a Russian-American. He and Ms. Dennings are hip to their work. I hope we'll be seeing more of them, as well as Ms. Davis and Mr.Junior.

(No contribution whatsoever was made to this review by Holden Caulfield.)

"Charlie Bartlett" preview

"Charlie Bartlett" official site.
3/3/2008: Now playing in Tulsa.
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Gary Chew can be reached at gchw7@yahoo.com
Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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