By Amy Sondova—Charlie Bartlett (2007) Rated R–Charlie Bartlett, (Anton Yelchin), just wants to make friends; he just goes about it the wrong way. After being kicked out of prep school (again), he enrolls in public high school. Riding the short bus to school and wearing a suit jacket with a crest, it seems obvious that high school is going to be another bad experience for Charlie. That is, until one day, he realizes another inventive way to make friends—hooking up fellow students with prescription medications.
Enlisting the help of the school bully, (Tyler Hilton), Charlie sets up a counseling office in the boys’ bathroom and dispenses medications to students for depression, anxiety, and ADHD among other things. The prescriptions are supplied by the various psychiatrists that Charlie visits for his behavioral problems. Interestingly enough, these doctors are only too happy to dope up the young man. While running his thriving practice, Charlie also manages to capture the heart of the principal’s daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings).
Sadly, Charlie’s pharmacy shuts down when a student overdoses on his prescription. It’s then that Charlie decides to offer his services for free (without meds). After thinking no one would show up for sessions, Charlie is shocked to find a line of teens outside his office (still the boys’ bathroom). He later says the students still come to see him because they finally have someone who will listen to them and who seems to understand their problems. Learning how to parent his alcoholic, pill-popping mother, (Hope Davis), seems to have given Charlie the experience needed to guide others.
Of course, the school administration doesn’t like Charlie, fearing the power and sway he has over the student body. Plus, Principal Gardner, (Robert Downey, Jr.), feels that he’s losing his little girl to a miscreant, adding drama to the plot. Naturally, like any good teen flick, Charlie prevails over the man and inspires the student body to be themselves. Oh, and he gets the girl, too.
Despite being clever and enterprising, Charlie doesn’t come across as a smarmy, know-it-all teenager. In fact, he is kind and even tender with his alcoholic mother. He’s not exceptionally cool, though he does dress better as the movie goes on. While he bucks the system and shows people a better way to do things, it’s a unique take on an old theme. Charlie Bartlett rules by learning how to serve and does so with a smile and a handshake. Sure, there are a few provocative scenes of sexuality, drug use, and inappropriate language; it is an MTV film after all.
Yet in the end, Charlie is a different teenage hero… one that is reminiscent of the boy next store or the clever genius lurking in the hallway. A reminder that nice guys don’t always finish last.