Charlie Bartlett- an unexpected pleasure

Quick side-note: Just watched a music video for the movie “Take me home tonight” with a cover of “Don’t you want me” by the Human League… so I’ve had to listen to the original right now.
But the video spoofed 38 80’s movies and I spotted all but 4 of them (booyah!)
Eric Forman (i.e. Topher Grace) might just be enough to get me to the movies to see that despite how bad it might be… and of course the 80’s references. I can’t really go back on 80’s references, now can I?

Oh yeah, the original is definitely better. But that’s why its now classic.

I was saying on my other earlier entry that maybe I should have saved myself the trouble of waiting for these movies to appear on TV if I just cued them up on YouTube.

I have come across a couple clips of both this movie and of RDJ talking about it. I believe in one of his interviews with Charlie Rose, he discussed it.
I also happened to find myself eating my own words. I said merely hours ago that I should avoid watching movies where Robert Downey Jr. isn’t the lead role because I might not enjoy myself quite as much.

“Charlie Bartlett” is an exception to that rule and now I might have to completely decline that possibility altogether. He might not be the first person on the playbill, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be a good movie.

 

In an interview he had with the movie’s lead, someone in the room had said that it is like a Ferris Bueller for the 21st century. Seeing as I’m a HUGE Ferris Bueller fan (hey, who else would put a quote of his in a birthday card… which, by the way, I made a ridiculous typo in. I’ll never forgive myself for that)… I was a tiny bit skeptical it would be anything like that.

But in a way, I suppose that is what it ultimately came to be.
Charlie Bartlett has the student body eating out of his hand after he had only been there for a couple weeks and they sought him for advice on a much grander scale than what you see in Ferris Bueller (the scene where he’s talking to the freshmen).

My God… I came into this movie to see another great Robert Downey Jr. performance and I end up enjoying the entire movie. As in, more than just his scenes alone.
Technically, I may have cheated a little bit. Hours earlier before I even made the decision to stay up to watch this, I watched a couple of random clips of him from the movie. One of them comes toward the very end and its titled “Robert Downey Jr. freak-out scene”… something like that. 
My initial sentiment while browsing through his theatrical resume, I dismissed this movie, thinking that I wasn’t going to enjoy his character all that much. He was labeled as the movie’s primary antagonist. But there were some things about his character and performance that I really appreciated… things I never thought to look into before.

But I was really impressed with the performance of our lead actor. I literally have to look it up again to see how to spell his name: Anton Yelchin. He also plays Chekhov in the Star Trek movie, if that means anything to anyone. (I’d only seen it once).
He really brings the most intriguing energy to this role that he makes the rest of the movie more than watchable. It’s actually kinda funny that he and RDJ were wondering in the interview if there was ever another movie where you’re rooting for the drug dealer.

 

Now let’s cut to the chase before it gets anymore confusing. The sypnosis of the movie goes something like this:

Rich kid Charlie Bartlett has just been expelled from his latest private school for making fake ID’s for his classmates. The next alternative for him and his mom (we find much later that his dad’s in prison for tax evasion) is to go to public school.
His first day is like the typical first day for any new guy. He gets ignored, laughed at and gets the living crap beat out of him by two school bullies. He talks to his psychatrist uncle about this fantasy he keeps having about being on stage with a huge crowd cheering him on (we see this at the beginning of the movie, but I knew better than to assume it was real)… so he gets prescribed Ritalin to help with what might be ADD.

We see a montage over 4 days where he takes a pill a day and practices a speech to tell the main bully Murph to get him off his back. Something about “you were beat as a kid, your father never loved you…” that kind of BS.
On the 4th day, he upps the dosage and takes 2 pills… the days go by and his antics at his piano get crazier… finally, the climax comes about where he’s running down the street in his underwear and gets pulled over by the cops. One of them tells his mom (while he’s on the piano wearing sunglasses- at night) that Ritalin can get kids high.

The speech he works on actually works on the two bullies. They go into the business together of selling prescription drugs to their classmates. The remainder of the Ritalin gets used up at the school dance.

Cut to the other side of the story involving RDJ, the school’s new principal and his daughter, Suzie Q. They have a couple of cute scenes together where she says how she wishes he was still a history teacher (apparently the newfound power had changed him a bit) and her asking for an extended curfew the night of the dance.
Needless to say, in this particular film, we get to see him as a father. Something that’s nearly foreign territory for me aside from that previous episode of Ally McBeal. Hell, its the first time I’m relating to my own generation more than his… see him more as a father and authority figure than just my latest heartthrob.

There’s also some controversy going on at the school that involves putting security cameras at the student lounge… this goes on for quite a while until the riot that happens near the end of the movie before the “freak-out scene.”

Charlie Bartlett opens up his office (in the boy’s restroom) for psychiatry and prescription drug sales. Basically he takes in the symptoms of the people that see him, tells his uncle that he’s suffering from these symptoms and he gives the kids the drugs he’s been prescribed.
You would think that after a while a few red flags would come up in his house because it doesn’t seem possible for someone to suffer from mood swings, depression, add and all this other crap at once. That kind of person would explode, I mean, why didn’t anyone suspect maybe he’s bi-polar or schizophrenic or clincally depressed?
The advice thing, one set of goofy critics likened to Charlie Brown and what Lucy does in her little booth where the price is 5 cents… but the dude gives good advice aside from the whole drug thing.

He also spends a couple trips in the principal’s office for all kinds of suspicions. I think one of them had to do with the security camera thing, which prompts a 3-day suspension. Meanwhile, the principal has a superintendant breathing down his neck a lot of the movie, telling him to maintain control over the kids and maybe to set an example with Charlie… and actually, he seems hesistant to do anything at first.
Although he does kinda morph into a hybrid of Ed Rooney and Richard Vernon because he eventually wants to bring the heat on Charlie because he happens to be dating his daughter.
Which reminds me that maybe I should get around to that movie “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” because she plays Norah in that movie (she’s really good in this one too).

Charlie kinda fell in love with her at first sight, not necessarily because she happens to be the principal’s daughter.

There’s one character that you get a little leery about in a couple scenes. He’s the first person to seek advice from Charlie, who prescribed Xanax and Zoloft to him… he overdoses on the stuff when his depression hits an all-time low… doesn’t believe he makes a difference in the school and nobody knows he exists. Luckily, he survives the ordeal. But this prompts the principal to come to his house to ask about the drugs (lack of proof prompts grounds of suspicion), and also to keep an eye on him when he finds out that his daughter is dating him (he hears this from a cop buddy of his at his usual spot- the bar).

Who knew that RDJ could play a convincing alcohol, huh?
In all seriousness, it took guts for him to do this role considering the trouble the stuff has gotten him into before. And he comes out of it guns blazing, no problem at all… in fact he’s healthier than ever. I think he just fell in love with the story and thought it had a great message.

Suzie Q tells Charlie about her situation at another of the school dances. Her mom left and that was when her dad started indulging in alcohol… and you know the whole shtick, “some days are better than others.” In fact, the day that her mom left, he was incarcerated for possession of a handgun and he was waving it around, saying he was going to kill himself… pretty dark stuff.

After the overdose incident, Charlie helps his friend get a play he wrote cleared not only by the principal (surprise, surprise, I didn’t expect that either), but by the drama club as well.
There’s one particularly moving scene that is the beginning of the sharp climax. Charlie comes to the principal’s house to pick up Suzie Q and hands her a pharmacy bag… he sees this and immediately jumps to conclusions, rushes out of the house to confront Charlie.
Wow, you can’t help but be moved by this scene in particular because the dread and concern in his expression is nothing short of briliant… then the kicker is that Charlie punches him out and he finds that the contents of the bag was Nicorette gum… Charlie had been asking Suzie Q to quit for a while.
Phew… powerful stuff.

Earlier that day, there was a congregation at the student lounge about the security cameras. Charlie asked everyone to break it up and to meet back there that night.
The principal and the superintendant show up to break it up that night. This prompts a few people to destroy the cameras and the cops to be called… although part of it was because of the assault.

Suzie Q is in the play and Charlie asks about her dad. He had been fired the night of the riot. She says that he’s been holding up in his study, which isn’t a good sign.
Of course being the hero that he is, Charlie goes to the house to invite the principal to the play. He finds him at a scene we see RDJ at several times throughout the movie. He’s sitting on a balcony above a swimming pool where he’s playing with a remote controlled boat.

But here we see him with a bottle of rum in one hand, a handgun in another, wearing a bathrobe with t-shirt and boxers and this really glazed-over look on his face. (In case you didn’t guess, this is the “freak-out” scene… only now its more moving because you have the rest of the story).
He fires five shots, 2 are in Charlie’s vicinity (behind him, naturally) and 3 are at the pool where his boat is… so he’s screaming at him and demanding in a mockingly tone what Charlie’s advice for him would be even though he says that he doesn’t need. Here, Charlie also completes his realization (which he came across after getting released on bail- he doesn’t need to be the adult of the house just because his dad’s behind bars) that he’s only a kid and he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing…

Finally, Charlie makes probably the boldest move any kid could make… when the principal has the side of the gun pressed to the side of his head, Charlie makes a mad dash to take the gun out of his hand and ends up in the pool, smacking his head on the diving board.
The principal sobers up and dives in to save him… then he delivers a good bit of advice “never attack a drunk guy with a gun”…
the two have a heart to heart and go to the play together, which is a sweet moment for the principal because he had said earlier in the movie that he missed hearing Suzie Q sing. It made him happy.

 

On the one hand, we have things from the perspective of the kids and the other hand, we see it from a principal and a father’s perspective. Definitely a great movie for all kinds of audiences, especially if you’re into the off-beat high school comedy/drama.

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