Fearing that perhaps it wasn't delivered heavy-handedly enough the first time, director Jon Poll makes sure to place the second awkward, non-sequitur usage of Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" right there at the pivotal tail end of Charlie Bartlett. Of course, it wasn't enough to just pony up for the rights to the original—no, to further drive the already well-accounted-for point home, Poll insists, in both instances, on having his cast members tackle the familiar tune, spotlighting it like it's some sort of clumsy mission statement. Wink. Wink. We fucking get it, Jon: You think you're remaking Harold and Maude.
Trouble is, you got it all wrong. To be fair, the script does lift a couple of its characters' surface traits fairly directly: For starters, our oh-so-irreverent hero (tediously played by Anton Yelchin) is an obscenely rich kid with an absent father and a detached, self-absorbed mother. But instead of casting your Harold as a weird, cynical, unapologetic smartass, you've fucked up and made him a helpful, good-natured, wide-eyed, honest-to-god-gee-whiz optimist—desperate for popularity, satisfied with comfortable conformity, and utterly angstless. Plus, you've made the mistake of trying to raise some bullshit "the trouble with kids today" issues about prescription medication—simultaneously characterizing the effects of low-dose Ritalin as both hedonistic E-tarding and hysterical speed freaking, à la Saved by the Bell—while also, apparently, condoning the sale of prescription drugs as a means to greater popularity.
As a largely innocuous addition to Hollywood's ample teen quirk flood, Charlie Bartlett certainly could be a lot worse—but it's a bummer for those of us still locked in perpetual adolescence to see yet another perfectly good teen antihero opportunity devolve into a charmless, self-consciously peculiar Ferris Bueller re-tread, directed by a guy who clearly hasn't set foot in a public high school in well over three decades. I mean, come on, dude—Cat Stevens? Are you joking?