Charlie St. Cloud (review)

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Better Than Twilight!

Poor Zac Efron: he’s at that awkward Movie Star stage. Without question, he’s got It: that indefinable onscreen charisma, that presence you can’t look away from. Does he have a long and varied career as an actor ahead of him? Sure… and yes, he can act — he’s got more than just that distractingly pretty face to his credit. But Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of options for him while he’s stuck in the postadolescent, not-quite-grownup phase. Until he matures a little more into a romantic comedy leading man or an angsty law-enforcement type (and the latter might be a stretch no matter his age), his options at this point are college sex comedy, torture porn horror… and that’s about it, unless someone can convince him that High School Musical: Post Grad! is a good idea. And I hope they can’t.
So it makes Charlie St. Cloud somewhat less tedious than it might otherwise have been: It’s kinda fun to bear witness to the birth of a future movie star, and Efron is an appealingly morose delight to watch here as a young man trying to find his bearings in life in the face of some tough choices that no young person should have to make. Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) previously directed Efron in 17 Again with the end result being that his charming young star was the only reason to check out that otherwise throwaway flick. But this romantic melodrama, geared for precisely the uncomfortable age Efron (Me and Orson Welles, Hairspray) is at, has a bit more to offer, as well. There aren’t a lot of movies like this: only the Twilight flicks come close, and they come laden with a lot more histrionics and with characters it’s hard to like or even to accept as plausible. Not because they’re vampires or werewolves but because they do not ring true emotionally.

Charlie, on the other hand… even though Charlie St. Cloud — based on the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — made me roll my eyes more than once, I found it impossible not to fall in love with Charlie St. Cloud. Because he is genuinely compassionate, genuinely hurting, and genuinely endearing. And that’s all because Efron has real soul onscreen.

There is a touch of the fantastical about Charlie, too, and about Charlie. See, five years ago, just after high school graduation, Efron’s Charlie — poor but happy in the Pacific Northwest — was about to head to Stanford on a sailing scholarship. But then his little brother, 10-year-old Sam (Charlie Tahan: I Am Legend), was killed in a car accident… an accident in which Charlie was driving. Though the smashup wasn’t his fault, and he couldn’t have prevented it, Charlie is naturally haunted by guilt… and also by the ghost of Sam himself, unaged, of course, whom Charlie now meets every day at sunset for a game of catch. Charlie didn’t go to Stanford, has never even left town — he can’t, you see, because he promised Sam he’d be there every day at sunset. Now he works a menial groundskeeper’s job at the local cemetery, the townie girls deem him cute but unacceptably weird, and his life is on hold while he pays daily homage to Sam’s memory and daily penance for his own remorse.

And then Charlie meets Tess (Amanda Crew: The Haunting in Connecticut, Final Destination 3), a spirited, adventurous gal — so unlike Twilight’s pathologically vapid Bella Swan — and she entices him as much as she threatens his trapped complacency. Their romance, though it is perforce wrapped up Charlie’s melodrama, is also genuine, one that neither denies youthful sexuality nor wraps it in squeamish prudishness. And it doesn’t play out in any expected way.

Now, don’t mistake me: Charlie St. Cloud is not a great film. Absent Efron’s ingratiating performance, it’s passably good at best. It’s overly earnest and weighed down by an overweening score that wants to drive you toward particular sentiments that we don’t need that overweening score to feel. But in the end, there’s something very moving about Charlie’s plight, and in the poignancy of deciding whether or not to let go of the memories of those we love. It’s a bit of slog getting to that ending, yes, but along the way the film is is also at least honest and sincere and old-fashioned in a sweet sort of way, as romantic melodramas go.

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Thu, Jul 29, 2010 6:14pm

thanks for your review….I love the CSC during the screening and plan to watch it again on friday.

why are some of the critics reviews (mainly from the guys) so brutally harsh. can they not consider who the movie is for?

its a wonderful movie with a good message. so what if there are scenes that are sentimental and sad – I like to cry during these scenes. what is wrong with that?

and Zac is such a wonderful actor with so much potential – give the guy a break!

Thu, Jul 29, 2010 7:42pm

i take great exception to the notion that male critics are being “brutally harsh” because this is a movie catering to women. just because i’m a girl i shouldn’t expect DECENT films, whether they be chick flicks or not? get real. there’s nothing wrong with emotional movies, but there is something entirely wrong with bad ones. and charlie st. cloud IS a bad film. extremely upset that i wasted 9 bucks to watch this.

Thu, Jul 29, 2010 7:45pm

Speaking of something better-than-“Twilight”: MaryAnn, have you ever seen the episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” titled:

“Fool For Love”?

That single episode blows the whole “Twilight” saga out of the murky water. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Matt C
Matt C
Thu, Jul 29, 2010 9:13pm

The movie looks all right, certainly better than 90% of the other chick flicks out there. I’m probably one of the few guys who doesn’t loathe Efron — he does have It, but he probably needs to pick his projects more closely. And he’s done voice work on “Robot Chicken”, which is one of the funniest shows on Adult Swim. (If you haven’t seen RC, I suggest you Netflix/DVR it.)

He’s definitely more than just some Teen Idol with a Pretty Face.

Thu, Jul 29, 2010 9:44pm

i take great exception to the notion that male critics are being “brutally harsh” because this is a movie catering to women. just because i’m a girl i shouldn’t expect DECENT films, whether they be chick flicks or not?

I agree that we should not expect movies for women to be bad. I did not grade this film on that kind of curve (and to be fair, there are some male critics who were tentatively positive toward this film, and there are some female critics who were brutally harsh).

extremely upset that i wasted 9 bucks to watch this.

You should have taken my advice, then: I said to wait for DVD. :->

Thu, Jul 29, 2010 11:39pm

“You should have taken my advice, then: I said to see Efron in ME AND ORSON WELLES on DVD instead.”

Fixed. You’re welcome…;)

Fri, Jul 30, 2010 12:51am

Except *Me and Orson Welles* is not on DVD yet.

Tue, Aug 03, 2010 12:17am

Morose delight??? Overweening score??

How did a 4th grade student get to be a “Top Critic?” Writing doesn’t get much worse or more self indulgent than this.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Tue, Aug 03, 2010 12:57am

I love it when random trolls belittle your accomplishments and ability, but provide no evidence they know what the hell they are talking about.

FWIW, I loved the word “overweening” and found it especially amusing to imagine those old Wile E. Coyote cartoons with such a score in an attempt to wring emotion out of its audience (an idea from another thread). Could you just imagine the heartbreaking strings swelling as Wile E. realizes there’s no solid ground beneath him and falls in super slo-mo alllll the way down in a tiny puff of smoke on the ground below.

…..fade to black….