By Tasha Chemplavil
The nice rich kid is a rare breed in American pop culture—the one who isn’t a spoiled brat, doesn’t flaunt his money at every turn and actually wants to help the people around him. Fortunately for moviegoers, the eponymous Charlie Bartlett (Yelchin) is one such kid.
After getting expelled from yet another ritzy private school, Charlie enrolls at the local public school. Once there, he starts a prescription-drug ring in the boys’ bathroom and adopts the toilet seat as the new psychiatrist’s couch. As an added bonus, the pest of the principal’s office falls in love with none other than the principal’s daughter.
But Charlie isn’t just another rich kid trying to exploit his peers. He keeps his “psychiatric practice” running to give his classmates an outlet to talk about their problems and even befriends the slow-witted kid at school. When it comes to making friends and influencing people, Charlie Bartlett does not discriminate.
The movie tends to ramble, frequently including scenes that fail to progress the story. In an effort to flesh out Charlie’s do-gooder side, superfluous characters are introduced and precious screen time is devoted to tying up their loose ends. Director Jon Poll would have benefited from a dose of some Charlie-prescribed Ritalin to maintain his focus. But Yelchin’s performance as the ever-endearing Charlie makes up for Poll’s concentration problems. His onscreen presence makes it easy to sit back and be entertained.
From his repertoire of funny voices to his Emile Hirsch-doppelganger tendencies, Yelchin perpetually charms the audience. It’s easy to believe that Charlie’s road to hell is paved with good intentions, and one can’t help but love the mischievous boy from the right side of the tracks.
And Yelchin isn’t the only enjoyable Charlie Bartlett actor. Downey brings his characteristic unblinking intensity to the role of Principal Gardner. Sporadically spastic, Downey makes for a convincing reluctant authority figure and an interesting foil to Charlie’s good-hearted delinquency.
Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Kat Dennings, Hope Davis
Directed by Jon Poll