We should blame “Dawson’s Creek” for this.

It was a definitive show in the ’90s – not for the world’s introduction to Pacey (Joshua Jackson), but because of the language. Here were “teenagers” spouting off ten-dollar words, off-kilter pop culture references and experiencing the pains of youth. The new movie “Charlie Bartlett” is another addition to “teenagers sounding like they’re adults, but still making the mistakes of adolescence” genre of moviemaking, yet unlike any of the TV shows or movies before it, “Charlie Bartlett” adds nothing new to the genre.

The story of Charlie and his rise from victim of bathroom swirlies to campus star has shades of alternative teen black comedies. But unlike “Rushmore” or “Election,” this movie doesn’t push the envelope far enough. The movie tries to play with high school clichés, but ends up relying too much on the students’ existence. Losing your virginity in the backseat of a car? Check. A football star who really wants to move to Paris and paint? The movie’s got that too. There’s even a musical number at the end, and we all know nothing drives a dénouement more than a musical performance.

Anton Yelchin (“Alpha Dog”) delivers Charlie with a variety of facets, accents and personalities. Once Charlie is kicked out of another private school, he’s sent to public school, where, surprisingly, he doesn’t fit in. Known as odd, he starts dispensing therapy in the boys’ bathroom stalls, complete with psychiatric medication.

Of course, the obligatory montage of teenage angst, complete with moral questions on sluttiness and homosexuality, occurs and Charlie adds wise-beyond-his-years snarky remarks to it all. However, Charlie’s practice runs afoul with the principal (Robert Downey Jr., “Zodiac”), and problems ensue.

Though Yelchin may be the headliner, it’s really Downey and Hope Davis (“Proof”), who plays Charlie’s mother, who really shine. Davis’s Marilyn Bartlett is innocent to the world around her, giving the character enough naiveté to make her sweetly affecting, and enough odd ticks to draw attention to her own state of mind. As for Downey, he has only gotten stronger with age, and as a former member of the ’80s high school Brat Pack, he’s willing to challenge himself by taking roles on the other side of the authority line.

Oddly, “Charlie Bartlett” features three cameos by cast members of the Canadian teenage soap opera “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” That show – though not to the same extent as American TV dramas – features mature storylines and, lately, more grown-up language.

It seems “post-pubescent psychobabble,” as Principal Gardner refers to Charlie’s manner of speech, is crossing borders. If only it wouldn’t. Then the viewers could be content with simply admiring the beautiful boys of primetime TV and film without needing a dictionary by their sides.

Charlie Bartlett

Rating: 1 and a half out of 5 stars

At Quality 16 and Showcase


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.