I find myself at that stage of life where I’m looking back a lot at the choices I made that brought me to this place. I’m still pissed, for instance, that I didn’t spend my twenties as a tennis pro, repeatedly winning the Australian Open – but that’s the bitter-sweet joy of retrospective dreaming; I gave up tennis when I was eleven. 

Anyway, as I sit here in an increasingly exclusionary and alienating South Africa, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would have taken to have done things differently. More information? Maybe. An upbringing far away from the narrow-minded goose-stepping Army of Christian Youth at my rural boarding school? Possibly. The early demise of apartheid, Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher? Well, yes to all three (a long story.) But actually I’ll tell you what I really think would have made a difference growing up: GOOD ADVICE. If someone, anyone – though particularly one of my peers – had been able to provide me with decent insight and guidance about how my life could be, it would definitely have turned out very, very differently. 

I only take this somewhat maudlin tone because, after re-living my university years with Starter for 10, I was plunged back into the horror of my school days in the bright, sweet, entertaining comedy Charlie Bartlett.

Charlie – a phenomenally accomplished and if-there-is-justice-in-the-world, meteoric-career-launching performance by Anton Yelchin – is a wealthy whipper-snapper with too little parental oversight and an overwhelming need to be liked. Kicked out of his umpteenth private school for forging IDs, he’s sent to the local public school where he struggles to fit in. (Cringe!) Yet in spite of the odds stacked against him, he achieves local fame both by reassigning the drugs (too quickly) prescribed to him by an army of shrinks and really, just by listening and passing on good advice. As Charlie says:

Well duh dude, this place sucks. But I just worry that one day we’re gonna look back at high school and wish we’d done something different.

From a location point of view, it’s not a particularly interesting or nice looking film – though some commentators noted that it at least looked “lived in” – which is apparently unusual for teen movie sets. The majority of school scenes were shot on the campuses of Western Technical Commercial School and Ursula Franklin Academy in Toronto. The boys’ lavatory that is used as Charlie’s office is one of Western Technical Commercial School‘s. The student lounge from the movie was constructed specifically for the shooting of this movie. Charlie’s mansion home though has a long cinematic pedigree; Parkwood Estate in Oshawa has been featured in Billy Madison, Mrs. Winterbourne, Hollywoodland and the first of the X-Men movies. Parkwood is considered one of Canada’s finest and last remaining grand estates, with architectural, landscape and interior designs of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

A lot of the criticism of Charlie Bartlett comes from the fact that it isn’t Harold and Maude and it isn’t Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Well, yes, but that’s just being pissy. Anton Yelchin’s virtuoso performance – supported admirably by the whacky Hope Davis and Robert Downey Jnr channelling a drunk (who knew?!) – means that this should be ranked up there with the best of them.