A few weeks back, Adam and I wrote a column highlighting a number of films we saw in theaters back in 2007. We decided upon that year more or less randomly, but I’ve since reflected on just how seminal it ended up being for me as a fan. It wasn’t a random choice, I realized; It was by virtue of the fact that my 2007 stack of tickets was the largest and most varied of the bunch. I was twenty-one that year, deep into my obnoxious film school bullshit and exploring more of what the medium had to offer than ever before. That was the year I really discovered Wong Kar-wai and Billy Wilder, Carol Reed and Jean-Luc Godard. But it was also a great year in popular contemporary film that saw the release of personal all-timers like Hot Fuzz, The Lookout, Superbad, Zodiac, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. In many ways, 2007 is my 1939, 1984, or 1999. It was a year in which I was fully committing to and investing in my love for film (After pulling some account information, I can also report that it was the year I first subscribed to Netflix). One important cog in that now-all-consuming wheel was an unassuming teen comedy called Charlie Bartlett.
Though we’ll always curse the cruel and sadistic gods who stole Anton Yelchin away from us so early in his career, Charlie Bartlett at least offers us a glimpse of the intelligence, wit, and charisma that made him one of the standout actors of his generation. Yelchin’s generous charm echos that of Michael J. Fox and Matthew Broderick in the best ways; he’s genuine and kind when he can be, penitent and frank when he has to be. Though Gustin Nash’s screenplay has a tendency to underserve its characters (more on that in a bit), Yelchin is always able to make us believe in Charlie’s humanity enough to carry us through the lean times. His eclectic style, empathic cadence, and nigh-Buellerian level of peer devotion grant him equal chemistry with drama nerds (Ishan Davé), cheerleaders (Megan Park), and loners (Mark Rendall) alike. It’s the kind of performance that — when considered alongside darker turns like Green Room or Terminator: Salvation and supporting roles like Star Trek or Thoroughbreds — proves that Yelchin could give a film exactly what it needed in exactly the right way.
Juno. The script varies in its interest in certain plot lines and has trouble defining key supporting characters, which becomes a huge problem when Charlie’s culpability in one student’s near suicide is glossed over so quickly that his third act penance feels more like a business transaction than a burgeoning friendship. Charlie himself ends up being a bit of a cypher; Though the motivating factors behind his mischief are eventually revealed, it’s so late in the game that much of his behavior in the film’s middle hour becomes hard to reconcile with the heroic persona he’s meant to inhabit. His goals shift toward altruism as he goes, but “fame” and “popularity” never feel like worthy enough causes for Charlie’s lies and manipulation. He seems smarter than that.