MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The high school comedy, "Charlie Bartlett," was originally set to open in movie theaters last August just before the school year had started. Then it got postponed which is not usually a good sign in the movie business.
But critic Bob Mondello says, sometimes, taking a semester off can be a good thing.
BOB MONDELLO: Charlie Bartlett is a sweet, smart, very privileged kid, who has been kicked out of every private academy his over-medicated mom has sent him to. He's now about to start at a public school - and he knows there's a decent chance he won't fit in there either.
(Soundbite of movie "Charlie Bartlett")
Mr. ANTON YELCHIN (Actor): (As Charlie Bartlett) Mom.
Ms. HOPE DAVIS (Actress): (As Marilyn Bartlett) Huh?
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) I think I might take the bus in tomorrow.
Ms. DAVIS: (As Marilyn Bartlett) Really? I was gonna have Thomas(ph) drive you.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) I know, but I don't think anybody else is gonna show up with a chauffeur.
Ms. DAVIS: (As Marilyn Bartlett) You're probably right.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Have you taken your (unintelligible) today?
Ms. DAVIS: (As Marilyn Bartlett) I haven't. Where do you suppose I put that?
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Probably in your purse…
Ms. DAVIS: (As Marilyn Bartlett) Oh, there you are. What would I do without you, Charlie?
MONDELLO: Charlie is pretty conversant with psychiatric drugs. His family has an analyst on-call, which means he has also internalized the language of psychiatry. And while that didn't set him apart in prep school, it gives him some advantages in public school.
With a little anger management counseling, he soon tamed the school bully. And when the other kids noticed that, they start lining up to have him counsel them, too - in a makeshift office he sets up in a school restroom. Charlie sits in one stall, his patients sit in the next.
(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Bartlett")
Mr. MICHAEL D'ASCENZO (Actor): (As Scott) I just can't handle this place.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Well, duh, dude, this place sucks. But I just worry that one day we're going to look back at high school and wished we done something different. So maybe you should, uh...
Ms. LAUREN COLLINS (Actor): (As Kelly) Get breast implants. I mean, a lot of my friends are getting them.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Well, that's up to you, but speaking as a guy, it's kind of a turnoff when a girl isn't cool with being herself.
Mr. JONATHAN MALEN (Actor): (As Jordan) I'm not saying that I'm gay. What if, you know, I'm not attracted to girls?
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Well, at least you're attracted to somebody.
MONDELLO: Charlie doesn't just offer common-sense advice; he also does unto his classmates as his shrinks have been doing unto him, becoming the school's unofficial psycho-pharmacologist, dispensing prescription antidepressants that he and his mom don't need.
At which point, he is, predictably, an outcast no longer.
Now, being an outcast has been a popular problem in teen movies since those "Ferris Bueller's," "Breakfast Club" flicks John Hughes made back in the 1980s. And first-time director Jon Poll seems to have found his inner Hughes, while working with a 21st-century cast: Anton Yelchin, downright charismatic as Charlie; Kat Dennings, smart and snarky as his girlfriend Susan; and in a casting coup, Robert Downey, Jr. — the ultimate teen bad-boy back in the '80s — as Charlie's grown-up nemesis.
(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Bartlett")
Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY Jr. (Actor): (As Principal Gardner) Is there a private school you haven't been kicked out off?
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Why? Are you checking up on me?
Mr. DOWNEY Jr.: (As Principal Gardner) Don't flatter yourself.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) I'm sorry.
Mr. DOWNEY Jr.: (As Principal Gardner) Principals have access to academic records. As you know, I'm a principal, and as principal, I will do my best to help you graduate with what you will need to survive in the world.
But I'm not always the principal. Sometimes, I'm other things.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Really? Like what?
Mr. DOWNEY Jr.: (As Principal Gardner) Like Susan's father.
Mr. YELCHIN: (As Charlie Bartlett) Oh.
MONDELLO: Breezy and sitcom light, aimed at teens despite its R rating, the picture, nonetheless, has grace notes that will appeal to an older crowd. A melody runs through the film, for instance, that I couldn't place until it was finally given lyrics at a school assembly. It's "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out," the theme from that much earlier teen-outcast movie, "Harold and Maude."
Sweet-natured like its hero, "Charlie Bartlett," isn't nearly as edgy or as unpredictable as that picture, but the rules have changed since then. And, "Charlie Bartlett," is as sweetly subversive as any teen comedy to come along since Ferris skipped school.
I'm Bob Mondello.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.