Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2010

Cloudy with a chance of vomit

Silly, saccharine 'Charlie St. Cloud' eschews all subtlety to hammer down its maudlin worldview

Charlie St. Cloud
Universal Pictures
Director: Burr Steers
Screenplay: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on the novel by Ben Sherwood
Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Augustus Prew, Donal Logue, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 39 minutes
Opened July 30, 2010
(out of four)

A truism: You can never really judge a movie by its marketing.

In the case of Charlie St. Cloud, yes you can. The film's trailer suggested a cloying mixture of the supernatural and the saccharine all wrapped up in a simple-minded fable, and that's exactly what it is. It's the bastard child of Mitch Albom and Nicholas Sparks, by way of Alice Sebold, with a sprinkling of Christian after-school specials.

This is not a movie - it's a series of bumper stickers. The ones with those adorably simplistic little platitudes that people mistake for profound declarations about the meaning of life. Did you know that everything happens for a reason, and that we are given miraculous second chances at life in order to learn lessons about love, loss, hope, redemption and living a full life? Did you know that, sometimes, you just have to let go and move on? Well, if you don't, Charlie St. Cloud will tell you. Many times over.

The sheer lack of dimension afforded both the main character and the film's messages derails it from the start. The kinds of subtleties that may have made the syrupy melodramatic elements somewhat more tolerable are absent. The pieces all fall together in such trite and convenient fashion that you might be inclined to think you're watching daytime television, designed with a very, very specific audience in mind. I'm looking at you, Lifetime.

Charlie St. Cloud is an American boy wonder with the world in the palm of his hands. For one, he looks just like Zac Efron. Plus he's a high-school hotshot whose sailing talents have earned him a scholarship to Stanford. And he's got a great relationship with his kid brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan).

Until a drunk driver changes all that in an accident that kills Sam and briefly kills Charlie before he's resuscitated by a pious EMT played by Ray Liotta. (Why did Charlie come back to life? No, it wasn't because of the defibrillator - it was because of the St. Jude medallion around Liotta's neck.) Guilt-stricken and depressed (and possibly delusional), Charlie abandons his future plans in order to stay in his hometown and play catch with the ghost of his little brother every day at sunset.

For five years he's been doing this. Now a caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried, Charlie floats through life a shell of his former upbeat self, until he's briefly awakened from his stupor by a run-in with Tess (Amanda Crew), a pretty girl and fellow sailor with designs on sailing around the world.

You're never going to believe this, but at a certain point she gets lost at sea. I'm just going to leave that piece of information hanging.

Charlie St. Cloud gives the impression that it's not even trying. It plays things exclusively for cheap sentiment, completely sidestepping the unsettling nature of both the story's events and Charlie's state of mind. It's tacky crap when it should be thoughtful and disturbing. Even the central character is given no dimension. His only discernible flaw is survivor's guilt - and that's one of those cute, noble flaws. Ninety percent of Efron's performance consists of using those bright blue eyes of his to stare sadly at things.

And then there's the old reliable Best Friend character - which these days falls into one of two categories: 1) the wisecracking black guy; or 2) the cheeky British guy. This movie opts for the latter, providing us with the annoying and unnecessary Alistair (Augustus Prew), whose entire essence boils down to these two things: 1) cheekiness; and 2) Britishness. As far as modern movies are concerned, those two are essentially the same characteristic. Needless to say, Charlie is referred to as "mate" on more than one occasion.

Then there's the ill-explained bending of the story's internal logic, which provides a manipulative loophole toward the film's resolution. In the world of Charlie St. Cloud, you see, everything is easy and convenient.

P.S. The characters' names suggest that this was supposed to be a different type of movie. Listen to these gems: Tink Weatherbee. Florio Ferrente. Alistair Wooley. And, of course, the titular St. Cloud family.

I mean, those are thoroughly ludicrous names. Either the original novel was a magical fairy tale, or the author was trying way too hard to be fancifully cute. Or both.

P.P.S. Hey, Burr Steers: It's great that you made the kid brother a die-hard Red Sox fan and all, but you can't show Dustin Pedroia in the ballgame scene if the scene is set in 2005. We Sox fans will notice those kinds of things. That is all.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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