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Charlie Bartlett (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/24/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/23/2008

I've always been fascinated by movies about high school. Mainly because they seem to come in only two forms. On the one hand, you have the films where high school is a nightmare. The halls are dark, the students are all mean and on drugs, and the faculty is useless. (This accounts for over 95% of movies in the genre.) Conversely, the other movies are nearly pure fantasy, such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where the school is perfect and the kids lead great lives. Charlie Bartlett makes the odd decision of falling somewhere in between these two worlds, creating a film which is familiar and new at the same time.

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is a young man of privilege. As the film opens, he is being expelled from a private school for creating fake IDs. Charlie and his mother, Marilyn (Hope Davis), decide that Charlie should try public school. So, Charlie, dressed in his prep school clothing, goes to school and is immediately beaten up by bully Murphy (Tyler Hilton). The only person who is nice to Charlie is Susan (Kat Dennings). Marilyn sees that Charlie is down, so she calls in the family psychiatrist to see him. Charlie has a negative reaction to the Ritalin which is he prescribed, so he decides to sell it at school. He turns the boy's bathroom into his office, where he listens to student's problems and prescribes medication for them. This makes Charlie very popular. His sudden surge in popularity catches the attention of Principal Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.), and the two begin a battle of wills.

Charlie Bartlett is the sort of film which wants to be everything to everyone, and thus bites off more than it can chew at times. The movie walks a fine line between comedy and drama. There are some very funny moments here as both Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey, Jr. deliver the script's dry lines with grace. Despite the fact that this is a "high school movie", the film refrains from sex jokes or sophomoric humor and usually presents clever and witty dialogue as opposed to physical comedy. However, the movie never truly becomes a comedy. On the flip-side, Charlie Bartlett has many dramatic elements as well. Both Charlie and Principal Gardner have pasts that they'd rather forget and the film slowly lets us into those worlds. Most of the issues which Charlie undertakes from his fellow students are played for comedy, but one kids has a very serious problem which takes the film in a very serious direction. But, it would be hard to call Charlie Bartlett a drama. The elements of comedy and drama are both present, but neither dominates.

And nor does either completely succeed. Put simply, the movie is too arty to be funny and too funny to be arty. The movie certainly has some comedic moments, and there are movie scenes as well. But, the comedy is marred by drama and it can be difficult to take the dramatic scenes seriously, so Charlie Bartlett winds us shooting itself in the foot.

But, these issues don't keep Charlie Bartlett from being an entertaining film. As noted above, the movie paints a very interesting picture of high school and this is done mainly through the characters. The film takes nearly every stereotype from high school movies and fleshes them out into three-dimensional people. Charlie could have very easily been another Ferris Bueller clone, as he's able to fool adults and run his scams, but we get much more, as we learn about Charlie's longing for acceptance and love. Murphy, the bully, is also an interesting character, as there's more to him than meets the eye. The movie also takes in interesting look at the private life of Principal Gardner, as we see that the man is having difficulty going from being an educator to a tyrant.

This may be an oxymoron, but Charlie Bartlett is a thinking man's high school comedy. It tells the story of a poor little rich boy who believes that being popular in high school is the most important thing in a 17-year old's life. This is a surprisingly poignant (and scary) statement. The movie takes the typical sex, drugs, and politics of high school movies and gives them a very mature tweak. The movie may disappoint those looking for another Ferris Bueller Can't Lose or Mean Girls, but if you want a look at high school which is both romanticized and realistic at the same time, then get to know Charlie Bartlett.

Charlie Bartlett rides the short bus to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain. The image shows no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and the transfer helps to capture the somewhat dark look of the film. I did note some video noise, but this may have been due to the fact that I was watching a special preview disc. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides some very nice surround effects during the opening scene and the crowd/party scenes. Stereo effects come into play with the school hall scenes. The track may not be flashy, but it serves this film well.

The DVD which I was sent for review only contained half of the bonus features available on this release. There is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Jon Poll and actors Anton Yelchin and Kat Dennings. This is a fair commentary, as Poll attempts to provide information about the making of the film, but Dennings is constantly interrupting him to point out things such as extras which she liked. The DVD also has a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Voodoo" by Spiral Beach. The final release will also include an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Poll and Writer Gustin Nash.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long