August 2, 2010
Review - " Charlie St Cloud " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Charlie St. Cloud
Directed by: Burr Steers
Starring: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Ray Liota,
Kim Basinger, Donal logue
I love a good death movie. My Sister’s Keeper was awesome,
making you feel like a teenager had cancer and was dying of
cancer and her mom forced her sister to save her from cancer
and they joked about cancer and it was all about having cancer.
Monster’s Ball, Marley & Me, Up and anything where people or
at least sentient beings really deal with death, that’s cathartic to
Charlie St. Cloud is itself a kind of pivotal moment in Zac Efron's
career as he attempts to transition gracefully from teen
heartthrob (High School Musical) to leading man material. 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. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of options for him
while he’s stuck in the post adolescent, 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. Efron proves
his dramatic mettle with an emotionally nuanced performance.
The kid can act. But though he acquits himself well here, he'll
likely want to look for more substantive work in the future to
continue proving he's more than just a pretty face.
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 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.
Even though Charlie St. Cloud - based on the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood - made me roll
my eyes more than once, I found it impossible not to fall in love with this flick. 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), was killed in a car accident... an accident in which Charlie was
driving. Charlie also flatlines before being shocked back to life. Well, shocked back to consciousness might be a better way
to put it. A friend later tells Charlie in exasperation, "You didn't die in that accident," only to have him reply, "Yes, I did."
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), a former classmate of Charlie's and a top-notch sailor in her own right. She's
gearing up to race around the world solo and is flummoxed by the enigmatic Charlie. He, in turn, is drawn to this girl, tailor-
made for him in that way in which Hollywood specializes. She reminds him of his love and aptitude for the sport of sailing. And
she's all legs and lips. But having a relationship with Tess, and even her life, is eventually dependant on Charlie being able
to let go of his grief over his brother's death. Tess is a spirited, adventurous gal 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.
Questions about death are handled with a light touch, their answers hinted at more than revealed. And while the view of the
afterlife pitched in Charlie St. Cloud doesn't square with what you learned in Sunday school, there are religious overtones,
provided most clearly by the devout Catholic paramedic (Ray Liotta) who saves Charlie and later provides him with a medal
of St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, at a pivotal moment. What do the dead require of the living? What do the living need
from the dead? It's at this intersection of life and death, of remembering and forgetting, that the movie does its most poignant
work, managing to elicit tears
without being too saccharine.
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 overly sentimental. 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 also at
least honest and sincere and
old-fashioned in a sweet sort
of way, as romantic