Charlie Bartlett (2008)

Add *Charlie Bartlett* to the overcrowded roster of teen misfit dramedies. This one does not especially distinguish itself, although it goes for a quirky, offbeat kind of tone like the far better *Rushmore*, cribs some notes from eighties teen movie king John Hughes, and, with its massively wealthy, ennui-plagued teen hero, and prominent use of a song by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), manages to evoke *Harold and Maude*. All of that effort to be like other, popular movies, to be *liked* -- it's just so high school.

Which does, I suppose, make the movie and its exertions to be likable a lot like the title character. Being popular is Charlie Bartlett's primary goal. As the movie begins, Charlie (Anton Yelchin) has been expelled from another in what is apparently a long list of prep schools, this time for manufacturing and selling fake IDs. He's got entrepreneurial zeal, to be sure, and an overdeveloped sense of rebellion to match it. His mother Marilyn (Hope Davis), overmedicated to placid, emotional zombiehood, sends him to the school of last resort, the dreaded public high school. There, Charlie, who still sports a prep school blazer and briefcase, is predictably bullied and treated like an outcast. His family's on-call psychiatrist fixes him right up with a prescription for Ritalin, which Charlie soon realizes has a resale value that far exceeds any possible therapeutic worth. He teams up with school bully Murph (Tyler Hilton) to sell the drug, as well as assorted other psychoactive substances to which he has ready access thanks to his familiarity with psychiatrists who are quick to prescribe a pill for every ill. He sets up a school counseling center in the boy's room too, offering soothing, nonjudgmental words and pharmaceutical remedies for teen angst in all its forms. All of which makes Charlie extremely popular with everyone except Mr. Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.), the stressed, ineffectual, can't-get-no-respect, alcoholic school principal, who also happens to be the father of Charlie's girlfriend Susan (Kat Dennings).

Downey is at first blush an inspired choice to play the conflicted authority figure in a movie about teen angst and rebellion. He was practically Mister Teen Angst and Rebellion back in the day, the guy every high school principal dreaded, but he's kind of wasted  in *Charlie Bartlett* as the Uncool Yet Secretly Cool Adult Guy. Or something like that. At any rate, his Mr. Gardner is in the thick of things when Charlie's pill-pushing and psychobabble result in a crisis, and then another crisis, and then yet another one. Even medicated teens get the blues.

Written by Gustin Nash and directed by Jon Poll, *Charlie Bartlett* is ultimately fairly bland, predictable, and more self-amused than amusing. The self-medicating adults say things like "there are more important things in life than being popular," to skeptical teens who in no way believe them; kids from broken families get naked, get high, forge unlikely friendships, and work out their problems, sort of. *Charlie Bartlett* had the effect of making me fondly remember better movies of the genre, while being itself almost completely forgettable.