Charlie Bartlett (2008)

Rated: R for language, drug content and brief nudity.
Length: 97 minutes.
Grade: BCDC=C+
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $5 million ($4 US, $1 Intl.)

Written by: Gustin Nash, with his first script.
Directed by: Jon Poll, who’s previously been an editor on a bunch of terrible movies like Death to Smoochy, Austin Powers 2, and Scary Movie 3.
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, and Tyler Hilton.

After being kicked out of yet another private prep school, millionaire teenager Charlie Bartlett finds himself enrolled in public school, where he winds up trying to become popular by playing psychiatrist to the much-troubled student body and unintentionally running afoul of the principal by dating his daughter.

Entertainment Value: B
This is a strange movie that I actually liked for the most part. Like any portrayal of high school, it’s an absurd exaggeration, but at least it’s exaggerating real things, not imaginary ones. The script was original, although slightly disappointing compared to what I expected, and the acting was quite good, especially from Anton Yelchin in his first starring role.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality C, Violence C-, Language D, Illegality C
Since the whole movie is about a kid faking psychiatric disorders in order to prescribe drugs for other kids with the real problems, obviously drug use is a central issue here. The violence is problematic because it includes a truly awful scene of beating someone up, suicide, and a teacher threatening a student with a gun. There is alcohol consumption, sexuality, and plenty of strong profanity. I would say it’s probably right as R, perhaps R-15, and is probably appropriate to watch with your teenagers. I wouldn’t want them watching it alone.

Significant Content: C
On the one hand, the movie is about adult incompetence at helping children and their real capacity to help each other. On the other hand, this sort of help really backfires in some serious ways, and one wonders whether it was genuine at all since the primary driving concern of Charlie’s is to be liked and popular. It’s definitely also about the proper use of influence and of power and the value and limits of teenage privacy.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
As I said, I think this movie actually could have been a lot better, although it wasn’t actually bad. I like some of the themes this raises about teenagers, adults, and drug use. There are many interesting conversations this could generate.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do kids use drugs? Is it because they want a high or is it because they realize that the world is out of whack and they’re just more sensitive to this than the rest of us who’ve grown accustomed to it?
~Is Charlie Bartlett doing good for these kids? In your perception, are prescription drugs over-used, under-used, or correctly used by your friends?
~How important is it to you to be popular? Is it bad to want to be popular? Is it okay to care about what others think of us? Are there correct and incorrect ways to pursue popularity? Assess Charlie’s efforts to be popular as compared with Murphy’s. What are the possible good and bad uses of popularity? Do kids naturally seek popularity? How is this impulse amplified or exploited by media like MTV? Why are people reluctant to admit their need to be liked or popular?
~What is this movie trying to say about bullies?
~Why are kids willing to talk to other kids but not to adults? Is this situation the fault of adults, kids, or media in your opinion?
~Is it a good idea for kids to have privacy? What do you think about a teacher-free zone? What about the decision to put cameras in there?
~Jesus tells us that our real virtue is shown by the way we treat those who cannot do anything back for us. Do you see this being demonstrated in this movie by anyone?

Overall Grade: C+
Like I said, I can see this generating some interesting discussions with your teenage kids. But otherwise, it’s probably not necessary to watch it. It’s certainly no Ferris Bueller or Heathers, but it’s not too far from Pump Up the Volume in quality.

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