*Charlie Bartlett (R)
Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
If an average generation clocks in at around 25 years, then it's almost too delicious to note that 22 years after Ferris Bueller's Day Off the definitive Gen-X high school movie comes the next great, generation-defining high school hero.
His name is Charlie Bartlett and, "Oh, he's very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads ... they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."
That's actually a school secretary describing Ferris in that 1986 film. However, the same could be said about the Millennial Charlie, played by the surely-headed-for-stardom Anton Yelchin, who hadn't yet been born when Ferris played hooky.
In fact, it's easy to imagine Charlie as the son of Ferris and his girlfriend, Sloane. Dad is absent from Charlie's life for reasons we don't understand until late (but that are oh-so Ferris-ish), and mom, Marilyn (Hope Davis), is absent in her own way, too. She's more pal than parent, and constantly buzzed on wine or prescription meds. So Charlie gets what he needs at school, and he is not one to cut class. Why would he, when he can effortlessly make his classmates love him?
Charlie's new to a public school, very different from the many posh private schools that have expelled him, and he's eager to make his name. He finds it easy to quickly establish himself because, unlike the parents, he knows what he and his peers need doesn't come out of a bottle of Ritalin or Prozac. And, this knowledge makes him a great ad-hoc shrink for the anxieties, dilemmas and crises that their parents ignore. He's the only one listening, and they need him.
Not that Charlie is above passing around pills, too, if his diagnoses seem to call for it. Like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Charlie Bartlett becomes a satire about how a generation is shaped by its elders and this one is awash in mood-altering pharmaceuticals. Who needs illegal drugs when you can simply take speed that's been trademarked, marketed and prescribed to you?
This, the feature debut of both film-editor-turned-director Jon Poll and scriptwriter Gustin Nash isn't merely Ferris on drugs. It's a head-shaking cry that the free-spirited, wisecracking and creative entrepreneurial attitude of Ferris has been transformed, a generation later, into a psychiatric diagnosis.
Ferris had Principal Rooney; Charlie has Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), just as determined to stop Charlie's denial of adult supremacy. But it's here that Charlie Bartlett moves beyond comparisons to other films. It's in Charlie's relationship with Gardner an extension of Charlie's tentative romance with the principal's daughter where the film deepens its black comedy into something more dramatic.
Through Gardner who also could be an older and more mature Ferris comes a sense that Charlie's elders realize they are just as screwed up as Charlie and his peers, and with that realization comes a hope that the generations can come together.