Review: Charlie Bartlett

Charlie Bartlett Movie Poster

Director: Jon Poll (The Tree)
Writer: Gustin Nash
Producers: William Horberg, Barron Kidd, Sidney Kimmel, David Permut, Jay Roach
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Tyler Hilton, Jake Epstein, Lauren Collins, Dylan Taylor, Mark Rendall, Kat Dennings, Derek McGrath
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97 min

When the first trailers for Charlie Bartlett spread across the web, some folks quickly jumped on the Ferris Bueller comparison bandwagon. It’s an easy thing to do: both films center on teenage boys meandering through highschool but whereas Bueller is never depicted as less than popular to begin with, Charlie Bartlett fits the geeky kid cookie cutter character to a tee.

Charlie Bartlett Movie StillCharlie is a lost teenager (is there any other kind?). Smart, witty, funny and desperate for friends, he does what he can to garner attention from his peers and the resulting enterprises lead to his expulsion from every conceivable private school. With no other alternatives, Charlie ends up in public school and until he devises his next scheme, at the low rung on the totem poll which makes him the perfect target for the school bully. In a smart twist, he ends up including said bully in his scheme and soon he’s running a psychiatric office from the boys bathroom, complete with pharmacy and real drugs. Things happen, stuff goes wrong and Charlie has to change his ways while trying to keep his reputation, his newfound appreciation for the principal who has cut him a break, and his new girlfriend.

Charlie Bartlett Movie StillOn the surface, Charlie Bartlett fits all of the pre-conceptions of the teen comedy but somewhere between the smarter than average script and the more likable than average actors, the film manages to work better than anyone could have expected. Anton Yelchin is the perfect mix of smart-ass every dude turned school’s most popular go-to guy and one can’t help but like him. It has something to do with his ability to sell the character as someone who we like and want to see succeed, even if he is selling illegal drugs to fellow students. Then there’s Tyler Hilton as Murph, the bully turned business partner who adds colour and a certain amount of danger to the story. Throw in the passable love interest in the form of the sexy Kat Dennings, and the always amazing Hope Davis as Charlie’s drugged up and unable to look after herself mother and you have a pretty good start. Thrown into the mix are an assortment of teens who all fit the standard highschool stereotypes but when put up amidst the likes of Charlie and Murph, they seem more realistic than stereotypical. The coup d’état of this entire enterprise has to be the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr. as Principal Gardner. A role that could easily have slid down the slope of clichéd adult in a kids world is instead brought to life by Downey Jr. and rather unsurprisingly, his is one of the standout performances in a film full of surprisingly good and memorable roles.

At its essence, Charlie Bartlett claims to be the story of a boy who has been thrust into an adult world, made to deal with adult problems and in the process grown up much too fast. Although there is a warning in there somewhere, what really counts is that the message is rolled up along with a bunch of others all of which speak to personal responsibility, importance of character, and how being popular is not the most important thing in the world (but I dare you to convince a teenager of that last one).

Smart script, solid direction but above all charismatic characters make this little film better than your average teen comedy and though it’s unlikely to dethrone Bueller as one of the quintessential teen comedies, Charlie Bartlett is certainly deserving of a spot alongside it.

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My favorite scene has to be the one with Downey Jr. and Yelchin by the pool near the end of the movie. Great stuff. I mostly agree, although I certainly don't think it deserves a spot alongside Bueller. A few excerpts from the review I wrote:

"… it’s certainly much smarter and far more witty than most other teenage comedies that have come out in the past decade."

"The script is still a little shaky though, specifically with the relationships between all of the characters … When Charlie and Susan first kiss, I was left wondering, 'Wait… already?' and I felt the same when Charlie’s new peers begin to admire him. It was just all too easy and it felt rushed and undeveloped"

"It’s a fantastic performance by Downey Jr. (one of the true greats in the business) and he really does something special with the role, which may have been forgettable in the lands of a less talented actor."

"…there just aren’t really any “wow, cool!” moments or memorable scenes that people will talk about and remember for years to come – like the Twist and Shout scene in 'Ferris Bueller,' the radio scene in 'Say Anything,' or even numerous scenes in last year's 'Superbad.'"

"So, while 'Charlie Bartlett' is certainly not as memorable and won’t go down as a classic like its spiritual predecessors (Yelchin is good, but he’s no young Matthew Broderick), it’s still an enjoyable R-rated teen comedy that doesn’t rely on raunchy humor and sight gags."


I mostly agree with you both. Downey and Yelchin were great, their performances made the movie work. What didn't ring true for me was how quickly the conflicts resolved. It almost had the feel of an after school special, but not quite. There were some real moments, too.

And there's a notable quote for me: Well duh, dude, this place sucks.


definitely a lot of problems but cute and fun. suspension of belief is a MUST.


Favorite part of the film is when RDjr. sais "never attack a drunk guy with a gun"….

I sudden thought.. gee, you talking from experience Robert?


right now i'm listening to the Filmspotting review of this…

sweet jesus I hate Matty Ballgame, besides the fact that he's wrong he has the most angry derision to his FRIEND CO-HOST over a disagreement, I've ever seen. I literally would like to reach into my mp3 and slap him.

Andrew James

Thanks to the fourth and a day off, I finally got around to this one. There are so many things to say about this movie. It took some time to warm up to but really won me over by the end – although I agree with the above commenter that the very end was a little too easy, convenient and did sort of feel like a little "after school special-ish."

While I like Hope Davis, I thought her chemistry with Anton was awful – though they did have a heart to heart that explained it a bit. Besides RDJ, I too really liked the punk kid turned business partner. I could be wrong but I think we might see some more of him in upcoming films. He really brought life to the movie.

"Thrown into the mix are an assortment of teens who all fit the standard highschool stereotypes but when put up amidst the likes of Charlie and Murph, they seem more realistic than stereotypical." – Very good and accurate observation.


I finally got around to this, been meaning to for a while.

I dont know why it has such split reviews, apparently Yelchin is divisive, which seems weird because he so clearly has "future megastar" written all over him, or at least "first tier character actor".

I see all these reviews that compare it negatively to a Wes Anderson ripoff, when its a long lost John Hughes movie at heart. If this is the same writer as Youth in Revolt, I'm sold.