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Charlie Bartlett - Review

Charlie Bartlett

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

COMING-of-age teenage comedies are nothing new but when they’re good they can be very, very good. Charlie Bartlett achieves top marks and graduates with quite a few honours.

It boasts an outstanding cast, a promising new director and some spot-on insights into teenage insecurity and rebellion that arrive in a hip, feelgood package.

Having just been expelled from yet another private school, rich kid Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds himself at a public school and forced to rely on his intelligence and wit to fit in and overcome the bullying.

But when he uses his own therapy sessions as a sounding board to get to the bottom of other kids’ problems and begins acting as an unofficial pharmacist as well, he achieves a new found popularity that attracts the attention of both the principal (Robert Downey Jr) and his daughter (Kat Dennings).

Jon Poll’s movie, while certainly similar to the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Igby Goes Down, is intelligent enough not to get pigeon-holed too easily and warm enough to overcome any potential pitfalls in its kooky characters.

Yelchin, for instance, works hard to make Bartlett endearing when he could have just emerged as rich and obnoxious, and taps into his character’s fears and insecurities extremely well.

While Downey Jr is as charismatic as ever as the college principal with his own set of demons to conquer, and Kat Dennings is coolness personified as his hip daughter.

Several of Bartlett’s high school chums also shine, adding to the overall richness of proceedings.

Poll occasionally struggles with elements of the plotting and never quite gets a handle on Hope Davis as Bartlett’s mother but he does ensure that the film carries enough seminal moments for teens to hold up as ‘cool’ (such as a couple of parties and Bartlett’s final confrontation with principal Downey).

And while some critics expressed concern with the film’s attitude towards drug-taking, accusations of recklessness prove woefully unfounded.

This is a smart, occasionally surreal, and always involving teen comedy that really does make the grade.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 96mins
UK Release Date: May 16, 2008