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Charlie Bartlett an Excellent Case Study on Today’s Teens

  • Lisa Rice Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2008 22 Feb
<i>Charlie Bartlett</i> an Excellent Case Study on Today’s Teens

DVD Release Date:  June 24, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  February 22, 2008
Rating:  R (for language, drug content and brief nudity)
Genre:  Comedy/Drama
Run Time:  110 minutes
Director:  Jon Poll
Actors:  Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey, Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton, Mark Rendall, Dylan Taylor, Megan Park, Jake Epstein, Jonathan Malen

As I watched Charlie Bartlett, I thought about an event I attended with a Hollywood ministry called Art Within.  Its director, Bryan Coley, said this of some Christian artists and critics:  “We’re like the awkward kid standing outside the group, saying, ‘Hey, let us in!  We’re cool, too!’”

He went on to say, “We’re counting cuss words in movies and valuing only the answers, not the questions, when we’re supposed to be observing—putting an ear to the ground of the human cry and getting back to being the hands and feet of Christ as we serve the unsaved.”

If there was ever a movie in which to look past the cuss words and put our ear to the ground of the human cry, it’s Charlie Bartlett (think a darker, more modern Ferris Bueller's Day Off).  No, it’s not for your kids, but it is an amazing, on-target portrayal of the angst of teens and what’s happening these days in their hearts and minds.

Here’s the story:  Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is a smart, rich kid who keeps getting kicked out of posh private schools for infractions such as making fake IDs.  His currently single mother (Hope Davis) finally enrolls him in public high school, where he rides the “special” bus (because it’s closest to his house), quickly gets beat up by the school bully, Murphy Bivens (Tyler Hilton), is laughed at by many of the others, and awakened to the tremendous hopelessness and meanness of his new peers.  Always sharp and ever the entrepreneur, Charlie decides to turn his misfortune and his classmates’ angst into a thriving business.

He pretends and convinces the family psychologist (Stephen Young), the family doctor, and several other prescription-writing professionals that he has various ailments.  Soon the medications come pouring in.  Charlie deftly turns the bullying Murphy into a business partner, and together they turn one of the boy’s bathrooms into a psychiatrist’s office.  Both guys and girls regularly come in, sit on top of a commode and share all their problems with smart Charlie, who is listening in the next stall.  Charlie researches the problem and doles out (for a nice fee) the medication he thinks each kid needs.  Soon he becomes the most popular kid in school.

His troubles multiply, however, when he takes up with the principal’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) daughter, Susan (Kat Dennings).  The principal is pretty unpopular with the kids, and even his own daughter is lippy and distant with him.  He turns to drinking, which only gets worse with time.  Susan is crazy about Charlie, though, continues to see him, and even lures him into giving up his virginity.

Charlie is on top of his game, fully in charge of his high school, until a tragedy occurs that leaves his sense of power and control shaken to the core.  Only if he sees the error of his ways, humbles himself, and changes course, will things at the high school have any hope of moving forward with true change.
Charlie Bartlett
is one of the most thought-provoking movies ever made about teens.  If you have junior-high or senior-high kids, and you are experiencing the sullenness and withdrawal of your sons, or the lippiness and prickliness of your daughters, you’ll see instantly that these moviemakers have perfectly portrayed some key emotions that plague the children of our culture.  The young protagonist sees the issues and tries to meet the needs of his peers in whatever ways he can, but he finds, as we all do, that the world’s system does not have the answers.  In the end, he and the others do find a way to move forward, but it falls short of the fulfillment that we, as believers, know is available to us all through Christ.

What’s sad is that no one tries to meet the kids’ needs with a spiritual solution.  But isn’t that typical of life in our public schools?  It would have been so wonderful to see a Moms in Touch group quietly praying for the children (as in our public school), and rejoicing when God touches lives in remarkable ways.

Overall, Charlie Bartlett is a well-made, funny but sad, targeted look at the very real emotions that plague our children.  It is very worth the ride as an enlightening case study on the cynicism, meaninglessness, relativism, disillusionment with authority, and desperate search for authenticity that many teens deal with daily.


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Beer, wine, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and prescription drugs shown often.  One character is an alcoholic who drinks constantly and gets in trouble.  All substance abuse is rebuked in the end.
  • Language/Profanity:  Numerous (about two dozen) obscenities and a few profanities.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Topless girls (hyped up on Ritalin) seen running through high school hallway; girl seduces guy into losing his virginity; nothing overt shown. 
  • Violence:  Bully beats up other kids and videotapes it.  Includes punches, bloody noses, kids crammed into lockers, etc.  A man fires about four shots out of a gun and accidentally pushes a student into a pool. He rushes to make sure he doesn't drown; the student survives. A man attempts suicide by taking a large dosage of anti-depressants.
  • Worldview:  The hearts of high schoolers are empty, and no one is giving them good answers for their angst.


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