“Charlie Bartlett” – Susan Granger reviews

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Mix the rebellion of “Ferris Bueller’s 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 body’s 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 Charlie’s 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; he’s 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 Downey’s own drug-riddled past. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Charlie Bartlett” is a refreshingly clever 8. It’s tart, smart and fun.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.