Mix the rebellion of Ferris Buellers Day Off with a bit of Igby Goes Down and a touch of Rushmore and you come up with this cautionary coming-of-age tale about teens recreational use of prescription medications and the necessity of parental involvement.
Kicked out of his very last prep school this time for a scheme to sell nearly flawless fake IDs – rich kid Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) must enroll in a public high school. After enduring the ritual newbie hazing, confidently optimistic Charlie becomes partners with the class bully (Tyler Hilton), becoming the alienated, overly-pressured student bodys underground psychiatrist, dispensing not only counseling but also mood-altering pills (Ritalin, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Xanax, Prozac, etc.) from a make-shift office in the boys bathroom. These pharmaceuticals are made available by gullible psychiatrists kept on retainer by Charlies exasperated, ineffectual mother (Hope Davis).
Charlie soon becomes enamored of Susan (Kat Dennings), daughter of Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), whose transfer from iconoclastic history teacher to paper-pushing bureaucrat under pressure from the superintendent drove him to drink. While their relationship ripens, there are subplots including a suicidal reject (Mark Rendall) and a promiscuous cheerleader (Megan Park) with self-esteem issues.
Making their feature film debuts, screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll go for high spirited exuberance over cynicism. With his gift for timing, disarming Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog) lobs volleys over the heads of the grown-ups; hes charming, sly, vulnerable and wholly sympathetic. Downey and Davis epitomize the frailty and disillusionment that all too often comes with age. And the climactic face-off between Yelchin and Downey cannot help but evoke undercurrents of Downeys own drug-riddled past. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Charlie Bartlett is a refreshingly clever 8. Its tart, smart and fun.