What's a preppie to do when he's been expelled so many times his mom decides he's going to have to cut it in the public system?
Charlie (Anton Yelchin) doesn't have an axe to grind, but he's clueless about his privileged background (he even wears a blazer to school) and genuinely shocked to find his head used as a toilet plunger.
Despite his checkered record Charlie is no fool. Taking stock of his assets, he realizes that he can play his multiple therapists off against each other to ascertain a bottomless prescription of Ritanol and other anti-depressants. With the school bully as his back up man, he can supply the entire student body.
That's the germ of a good movie - even if it's a bit ridiculous to imagine that American school kids have any difficulty getting hold of Ritalin - or harder stuff for that matter.
Director John Poll and writer Gustin Nash have another card up their sleeves, and it's a Joker. With all his experience in playing to the shrinks, Charlie starts to dispense wisdom as well as drugs. He doesn't have a couch, but a cubicle in the Boys' loos serves as a makeshift office-confessional. Soon he's the coolest kid in school, a combination of Oprah, Dr Phil and your favourite pusher.
Unfortunately the movie squanders this promising set up. What starts as a satire on therapy culture turns into a celebration of trite platitudes about open lines of communication and listening to the kids. It's possible that Nash wrote Charlie as an anti-hero. Many of his actions are ethically dubious at best. But Poll grants him a free pass. He's a little lost, perhaps, unhinged even, in Yelchin's quirky, showy performance, but no more than the adults around him - his mom (a very sharp turn from Hope Davis) and the school Principal (Robert Downey Jr) are both alcoholics, but hypocritical with it.
Downey is also very good, unhappy with the responsibilities of his job and mortified when Charlie stars dating his daughter (Kat Dennings). But the movie loses its nerve. As it becomes more serious (pursuing a not very interesting subplot about CCTV cameras in the student common room and an earnest angle regarding a potential suicide) the finger-wagging starts. Not forgetting the Cat Stevens' tunes. Close your eyes and you could be back in 1971 with Harold And Maude - except that movie had the courage of its daffy heroine's convictions.
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