In Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip, eight-year-old entrepreneur Lucy van Pelt ran a psychiatric version of a children’s lemonade stand offering questionable advice for the budget price of a shiny nickel. In the hit 1970s television series Happy Days, the compulsively leather jacket-clad Fonzie commandeered the men’s room at Arnold’s which he turned into his “office” in order to share his own brand of questionable pearls of wisdom with the Milwaukee teens, preferring his age group’s highly coveted currency of cool points in lieu of coinage.
More than thirty years later, when it comes to the perilous task of coming of age — whether you’re eight or eighteen — popularity still reigns supreme. And in the feature filmmaking debut from both director Jon Poll and writer Gustin Nash, the two combine the aforementioned pop culture concepts with pharmacological precision, managing to mix in classic teen films from the decades that followed including Harold and Maude, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, Clueless, Rushmore, and Mean Girls to create the perfect prescription cocktail with minimal side effects, aside from a high likelihood of audience addiction to their film, Charlie Bartlett.
In the titular role, television actor Anton Yelchin turns in a winning performance as the mischievous yet terribly bright wealthy high school student Charlie Bartlett. After getting ejected from the latest in a string of prep schools for unacceptable behavior, including running a fake ID laminating press in order to be liked by his classmates, Charlie finds he’s left his exasperated, neurotic mother Marilyn (Hope Davis) no choice but to pack him off to public school.
Fearing he’d make the wrong impression by arriving via his family’s chauffeur, unfortunately Charlie (like Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer in Rushmore) neglects to realize that perhaps wearing his prep school uniform and packing an attaché case isn’t the wisest way to fit in. Sure enough, after first accidentally boarding the “short bus” for challenged students with special needs, he arrives only to find himself the victim of a toilet “swirly” by the school bully Murphy Bivens (Tyler Hilton). Undaunted, he continues to try and put his best foot forward by greeting everyone with “Hi, I’m Charlie,” even going so far as to write it in a note to Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings), the beautiful girl who’d originally caught his eye but assumed he was a teacher. Ultimately Charlie ends up sitting with his friends from the short bus at lunch.