Charlie Bartlett, which opened weakly last weekend, is a smart teen dramedy about an enterprising kid (Anton Yelchin) who peddles prescription drugs and dispenses psychiatric advice on the side. It’s about the spirit of entrepeurialism in the vein of Risky Business, Rushmore and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is to say it’s about a young lad shuffling around with the style and attitude of a likable sociopath.

Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey, Jr. in Charlie Bartlett

It was a wee bit disappointing, to me, when Yelchin developed a conscience and a sense of responsibility at the end. Even though this was the right way to go, I prefer the company of nervy rule-breakers. The truth is that for me, Charlie Bartlett is a little tame, a little too well-mannered. And Yelchin is a little too mild, too ready with the twinkly-eyed smile. He’s a skilled actor, but he just doesn’t have the heavy chemistry of a movie star.
The plot ambles along from one thing to another and eventually things reach their end point. Yelchin’s character gets tossed out of prep school (like Rushmore‘s Max Fischer), adjusts to the new rules, becomes a Ritalin dealer, makes new friends, meets a nice sensitive girl and gradually gets laid, gets caught and disciplined, re-assesses, grows up.
And yet Charlie Bartlett, mild and mitigated though it may be, never plays it overly dumb or coy and lowbrow. And the performances are all pretty solid, especially Yelchin’s and Robert Downey‘s as a screwed-down high school principal.

David Permut

There are just two problems. One is that Bartlett got slapped down last Friday by 50% of the Rotten Tomato creme de la creme. The other is that the film opened sixteenth last weekend with a per-screen average of $1636.
This means that no matter how well Bartlett fared in exit polls last weekend, the game is more or less over. It’ll be gone before you know it and a Netflix title three or four months after that. It would be a better world, for sure, if worthy little films like Charlie Bartlett could be given time to find their audience. But we don’t live in it.
I had a nice chat last Thursday with Charlie Bartlett producer David Permut. Definitely a spirited conversation with a good fellow (who’s also the producer of the forthcoming Youth in Revolt, to be directed by Miguel Arteta and star Michael Cera).
I’m sorry I didn’t run the story last Thursday night or Friday, but the rigors of Oscar weekend got the better of me. And I’m sorry that Charlie Bartlett got kicked to the ground last weekend. I wish it were otherwise. You could do worse than to go out and catch it this weekend. But hurry up.