Regarding your proposal of Charlie Bartlett.
assignment: CHARLIE BARTLETT
special request: NONE
Director: Jon Poll
Names you know: Robert Downey Jr.
Names you might know but if you saw the face you'd definitely recognize the face: Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings
If you liked "One Tree Hill" you might recognize: Tyler Hilton
As Yelchin's mom: Hope Davis
Suicidal: Mark Rendall
Degrassi kids: Jake Epstein; Lauren Collins; Ishan Dave
Didn't even recognize him: Drake
The first impression of Charlie Bartlett is that it won't be your usual high school movie. Which, to me, means it won't involve the themes: first love; youth vs authority; finding who you are.
You quickly realize it's a "one character against the system" type of film. In this case, the "system" is the mundanity and unhappiness of Charlie's new public high school. This part of the movie is like witnessing the early college years of Van Wilder we never got to see, where he's ascending the ranks, connecting to every one and everything through charm, humor, and bravado (and, in Charlie's case, prescription drugs).
The "character against the system" genre has a rich legacy. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Nicholson), Cool Hand Luke (Newman), Gladiator (Crowe), Shawshank Redemption (Robbins), Tigerland (Farrell). In these movies, we usually see this progression:
System > Character
Character > System
Character = System (stale mate)
Then either the system wins or the character wins.
Bartlett does indeed follow this pattern. Character. System > Character. Character > System. Character = System. Conclusion.
Sadly, CB spends too little time reveling in the Character > System moments and WAY TOO LONG in the stale mate where the plot progression grinds to a halt (like being stuck in traffic). Plus, crazy, unbelievable, inexplicable things happen in the last third of the film.
1. The school's superintendent installs cameras in the kick-ass student lounge/club house and the students riot. R.I.O.T. They literally flip shit. They're destroying property. The cops have to come.
I'm not saying a riot couldn't happen at a school...but I think this riot is stupid and displays the ignorance of teenagers (you might think that was the point, but it wasn't. The scene's only purpose is to demonstrate Charlie's control over the student body because he single-handedly ends the insanity). One of the film's themes is "youth vs. authority" and while I like the idea of a riot, this scene is like seeing distant lightning: bright, cool looking, but is gone in a flash, and if it hit someone or something, if it had a consequence, you'll never know.
2. Also nonsensical: Robert Downey Jr., who is playing the school's principal, hates Charlie (because Charlie is getting him in trouble with the Super by causing so much unrest/happiness in the student body, and handing out prescription pills) and Charlie has started dating his daughter, Kat Dennings, and when Charlie comes to pick Kat up, and Downey sees Charlie with a pharmacy bag (nicotine gum to help her quit smoking), Downey runs out and pushes Charlie WHO THEN PUNCHES DOWNEY IN THE FACE. A kid that has come to dominate a student body through brain, not brawn, wouldn't punch his principal. He made the school bully his best friend! By talking to him! The bully put Charlie's head in a toilet in the beginning of the film and Charlie reacts by conversing with him. Yet Downey, who is the father of Charlie's girlfriend and the principal of the school, gets punched. I don't buy it. The motivation isn't there. It doesn't fit the character. The writers needed SOMETHING to move the story along and create conflict between Downey and Charlie (and also give the System an upper hand over the Character). The writers made a bad decision. The same thing happened with Cuckoo's Nest (the movie's fine, then it ODs on melodrama).
Bartlett makes you think it's going to be smarter than your average high school movie (a la Mean Girls, Superbad, Easy A) by applying the "character vs. system" plot. The conflict between Charlie and Public School is exciting and fun. But the last third of the film abandons the conflict to hastily bring up, explore, and answer questions involving (the typical themes of) "first love", "youth vs authority" and "finding yourself". The established rhythm of the film is broken and never returns.
With that said: the movie means well. And you can admire many moments. It undermines itself, though, and comes up short. It's like if instead of having Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix fight to the death at the end of Gladiator, Crowe decided he would retire, train other gladiators, and marry Phoenix's sister.