Screenwriters: Gustin Nash
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr, Kat Dennings, Hope Davis
Running time: 97 mins
The world has witnessed many severe injustices over the years. The imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the abolition of the 10p tax duty and the upheaval of Doctor Who to an earlier timeslot. All have triggered mass uproar. Well, here's another firecracker for the big bonfire: Charlie Bartlett. A hilarious and poignant comedy of a disillusioned teen coming to grips with his own existence, this film sank without trace at the US box office while the vastly inferior and thematically similar Juno sent the chattering classes into a frenzy. Outrageous.
Charlie Bartlett is a damaged but ingenious wisecracking kid, regularly expelled from schools for various authority-defying scams. In his new school, he manages to navigate a first day 'bogwash' from the bullies and worm his way into the pupils' hearts with a burgeoning line in happy pills, DVD compilations of playground fights and a toilet cubicle counselling service. The edgy Principal (Downey Jr.) is trying to nail the popular entrepreneur with his expanding CCTV network, but can he thwart Charlie before he nails his own daughter Susan (Dennings)?
Dominating the movie is young actor Anton Yelchin, who effortlessly tackles the tricky role of Charlie. In less mercurial hands, this rich limo-riding, drug-dealing kid could have been devoid of any appeal, but Yelchin has such a seductively charming glint in his eye that we're soon hooked on Charlie, like his customers on pills. Behind the bravado lies en emotionally fragile core, which Yelchin delicately teases out over the movie. You'll be cheering when he cosies up to Susan in the back of a car, and suppressing sobs when the Principal finally lashes out at Charlie in an explosive poolside scene.
Despite the humour, the central issues of substance abuse and lack of parental figures aren't trivialised at all. Robert Downey Jr. is far from the usual cardboard cut-out anally retentive school Principal. His struggles to beat the bottle and relate to his daughter are depicted in brutally honest fashion, contributing to an underlying sense of doom and nihilism beneath the laughs. In may ways, the tone mirrors the drugs that Charlie supplies - offering a high followed by a resounding low. It's equally addictive too.
Crucially, Charlie Bartlett provides a highly satisfying ending, via an inspired musical montage, that wraps everything up without feeling overly contrived and retaining a delicious sense of moral ambiguity.
Ferris Bueller for the Noughties, Charlie Bartlett has it all. Heartfelt laughs and engrossing dramatic conflict, magnificent performances all round and the effortless cool that other movies can only dream of. Make an effort to see this gem.