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If Nobody Loves You Create the Demand:
A Powerful Jolt of Entrepreneurial Energy and Wisdom
by Freeman Joel
(Paperback from Amazon)
Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is what you'd call a mature seventeen-year old. Which has caused him some problems. Like doing things that have resulted in his being expelled from every private school in the community. But none of that affects him much. He's not only mature, he's precocious, conscientious and entrepreneurial to a fault. What has had its effect on him and put everything else in an almost-ran position, is his father. A wealthy businessman, he was caught cooking the books and has wound up in prison, where Charlie can't bring himself to visit. Shame, judgement, whatever... what Charlie is looking for now, in his post-convicted-father life, is public acceptance.
His big dream is standing up in a huge auditorium, saying, "Hi, I'm Charlie Bartlett" and receiving the roaring adulation of a rock star.
A cold dash of reality comes quickly on his first day in his new school. He's the geek with the blue blazer with the school emblem. Charlie's never been in a public school. Here, he's a laugh to some, an object of derision for others, and a punching bag for big Murphey Bivens (Tyler Hilton), the school bully. He doesn't exactly understand the animosity, but Charlie is nothing if not adaptable.
When his black eye and increased level of anxiety come to mom's attention, she consigns him to the family shrink who diagnoses ADD and prescribes Ritalin. It pumps him up like an additive at Indy but when he comes down again, a genius idea is born.
With the body-guardianship of an oversize (but tough) simpleton he befriended earlier, he forces Bivens into mom's limo to negotiate a change in relationships -- highly unlikely given Biven's thirst for superiority. But that's Charlie's M.O. Where others see hopelessness Charlie sees potentials -- given the right circumstances. In this case, it's the idea of selling the remaining Ritalin at the dance for ten bucks a pop. Bivens, not entirely a reflexive muscle, rejects any thoughts of friendship Charlie might be proposing but likes the idea of a business partnership with the rich kid.
The plan is a ripping success as evidenced by the sheer testosteronic joy the drug produces at the party and Charlie, now the go-to man on campus, is researching pharmaceutical manuals and visiting with shrinks all over town. To each one he describes a different set of symptoms in order to score a complete pharmacopia for the range of ills at school (he's steadfastly conscientious about matching symptom to cure). He holds psychiatric sessions of his own in two stalls of the men's room with Bivens on hand to dispense the drug that surrogate-shrink Charlie prescribes. And, with the student body following his every thought and impulse, Charlie is fast becoming the rock star he's always wanted to be.
While all this is going down, Charlie has auditioned for a Shakespearean play with a femme role of high camp that he delivers falsetto in order to impress pretty Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings), one of the impressarios of the production. All efforts in this regard turn out hugely successful and then Charlie finds out that Susan is the principal's (Robert Downey Jr.) daughter. This is more of a problem for the dad/principal than for Charlie or Susan until it becomes another reason for expulsion.
Yelchin couldn't carry the movie's tongue-in-cheek comedy any better if he were Buster Keaton and demonstrates an impressive departure from the serious requirements of the doomed Zack Mazursky in "Alphadog." He has a smoothness of delivery that combines well with understated comedic timing that apears to be so facile that it has to be suppressed in order to avoid becoming slick.
Downey delivers pitch perfect balance as dad and school principal in a rare second banana role. Davis is in exemplary territory and one might leave the theatre thinking her overly understanding, somewhat loopy mom is among her best work. Dennings is refreshing and lovely -- everything her idyllic part is designed for. And, as for Hilton, I can say that I've never been so charmed by a nasty bully role -- rehabilitated or not.
Which, one should acknowledge, is the accomplishment of the concepts and solid script by Gustin Nash and canny direction by Jon Poll. The script has its ups and downs (no drug pun intended), and a few astute choices. By making Charlie an accomplished pianist (among so many other attributes), the stimulating affects of the Ritalin on his central nervous system is brilliantly conveyed by the increasing tempi of his playing until it becomes a piano roll gone berserk -- a moment of visual hilarity and broad comedy.
In all, a stimulating character study composed in the rarified air of satiric, good humor that takes off with side doses of social relevancy. I was laughing at things when the theatre was otherwise silent, quite receptive to what the creative team was dispensing.
~~ Jules Brenner