A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature comedy about high school students is full of images of and references to pills, other drugs, beer, and liquor (all of which are used by the students, who also smoke). Characters discuss suicide, depression, and troubled parent-child relationships. There are images of brutal "fight videos" made by the students, a gun wielded by a potential suicide, and a raucous student demonstration. The hero loses his virginity (off screen, after some kissing scenes), and there's some strong language, including "f--k."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Angry at his absent father and alcoholic mother, the hero of CHARLIE BARTLETT looks for ways to act out. When he's expelled from yet another prep school for forging IDs, Charlie (Anton Yelchin) lands at a public school, where he becomes popular when he starts dispensing advice and drugs to his classmates, repurposing the medications (Ritalin, Xanax, Prozac) prescribed by his own doctor and listening to fretful teens in the faux confessionals of the boys' room stalls. While Charlie feels increasingly comfortable with school bully Murphey (Tyler Hilton) and his most enthusiastic "client," the depressed Kip (Mark Rendall), it's clear that he'll eventually need to come to terms with his choices. He gets precious little help from his mother, Marilyn (Hope Davis), and so seeks instruction and solace elsewhere -- namely, his new principal, the lonely, approval-seeking Mr. Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), and his beautiful, rebel-ready daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings).
Is it any good?
Yet another movie-styled high school smirker, Charlie is surely clever, but he's also unoriginal. While he takes his search for identity/family/community/popularity to topical extremes (selling pills, offering psychobabbley counsel, and filming homemade fight videos), he follows a familiar coming-of-age course that's better suited for adult viewers familiar with his cinematic precursors than those currently in the throes of high school themselves. The contrivance of Charlie's story, the convenient ineptness of his mother, and the rallying of his peers don't so much extol the virtues of public education -- or even the wondrous discoveries of adolescence -- as they rehearse clichés (will Charlie lose his virginity as he so desires? Guess!).
This isn't to say that particular moments in the film don't resonate with a kind of energy or wit (particularly the featuring Downey, who brings a perfect pitch of weariness, frustration, and hope to his exchanges with the students). But as Charlie must learn his own limits and the value of being "himself," the film turns increasingly predictable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages about our "fast-fix" culture, in which drugs are prescribed to smooth over emotional or social problems. Do you agree with the statements the film is making? Which parts do you think are exaggerated for humor? Families can also discuss the tensions between Charlie and his parents. How does the principal become a surrogate father? How could the characters -- both kid and adult -- be more supportive and smart in dealing with each other?