Coming-of-age teen comedies have been well and truly tainted over the past decade. The market has been saturated with a battering of turgid efforts churned out of Hollywood a dime a dozen. But it looks like things are changing, and for the better too.
Superbad was the beacon of hope for the flagging genre and the follow-up success of Juno proved that a well-written script, along with great casting, can be the ingredients for a film to reach classic status.
Thankfully Charlie Bartlett ticks both of those boxes, delivering an edgy comedy that doesn't shy away from delving into real issues that affect today's youth.
Anton Yelchin - an inspired choice as the lead of Charlie - has a guilelessly optimistic outlook on life, who you are instantly drawn to as he deals with adversity with a smile.
Wealthy Charlie is kicked out of public school for running a fake id racket. Having being expelled from an array of fee-paying schools, Charlie is left with only one option, going to state school.
Unfazed by the proposition of making a fresh start in a new school, he finds himself ostracized by his peers and even takes a couple of initiating beatings from school bully Murphy.
One of few people who actually acknowledge him is Susan (Kat Dennings), the principal's daughter.
Battered and bruised, Charlie decides he's not too fond of acquiring enemies, only friends, or at least, business partners. This is where his wide-eyed entrepreneurial skills come back to the forefront. After being prescribed
Ritalin to help with the turmoil of the transition of changing schools and his absent father (incarcerated for tax evasion), he takes a few too many and goes berserk in the street. He is swiftly brought back to his mansion by the police in his underpants.
Instead of dealing with the situation, his mother, a woman whose inability to discipline him is comical, dives back into her heavy cocktail of drink and happy pills.
Knowing he can easily get hold of prescription drugs from his family's shrink, Charlie makes Murphy the proposition of joining him on his venture of selling on his excess pills to the kids at school.
Becoming a drug dealer with a conscience may seem implausible, but Charlie begins a campaign of compassion and consideration for his fellow pupils. He sets up an agony aunt office in the boys' restrooms, where he gets the depressed and undervalued teens to perk up with his positive advice, or listen to their symptoms, read up on them and go to his shrink for the required drugs.
It's not only people after a high that frequent Charlie's office. Students' come to talk about everything from sex and relationships to going to college.
Charlie's rise to the top of the popularity tree is sudden, but he doesn't change his personality to receive the recognition. He may dabble in
illegal activities to reach the pinnacle of his desired status, but his heart is the right place. This is apparent when his first real run in with Principal Gardener (Robert Downey Jr.) isn't a pleasant one. Gardener turns up at Charlie's house to inform him that a pupil has overdosed. Reality kicks in and Charlie is scared enough to wash his hands of his amateur pharmacist role.
Gardener may be wary of Charlie, but his daughter Susan gets ever closer to him. The fearless schemer eventually comes to terms with his jailed father and his mother's inability to be a stable parental figure. Charlie and Susan's relationship blossoms and they both show a great deal of maturity beyond their years, as their parents can't maintain a stable life for themselves or their children.
Alcoholism is prevalent in both parental camps, but there's a sobering moment for Gardener when Charlie's life is put in sudden danger.
Like all teenagers, Charlie has his problems, but he embraces the highs and lows of teenage life with impenetrable charisma. Charlie Bartlett is the voice of a generation.