Charlie Bartlett: Not Enough Teen Angst

  Like most wanna-be heroes of the eager-to-please teen comedy, poor little rich boy Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is too charming by half and not nearly quirky enough. Expelled from his ritzy private school, our blazered hero soon finds himself dispatched to a public school by his desperate single mother (Hope Davis). Some mild narrative edge—Charlie goes into business with the school meanie, supplying the student body with prescription drugs—is soon lost when screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll start industriously raking over the usual Troubled Youth talking points: overmedicated adolescents ill-served by crumbling high schools, a drug-happy medical establishment, and malfunctioning parents. Davis is quietly intelligent as Marilyn Bartlett, who washes down her own meds with a cheeky chardonnay and treats her son as a replacement husband, and Kat Dennings brings sexy wit to her role as Charlie's sane gal pal. But as Kat's father and the school's barely coping principal, Robert Downey Jr. seems muffled and barely present. Which may be why he's given a gun to wave around in the third act, before we hear the tinkling sound of everything falling into wholesome place. Like its anodyne hero, Charlie Bartlett wants to make mischief, but it wants even more to get a gold star.

 
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