Charlie Bartlett

Prep school student Charlie Bartlett is caught forging driver’s licenses and expelled yet again, setting him up for a transfer to public school and a prescription for Ritalin. Charlie ventures onto a school bus for presumably the first time, and encounters an overly friendly fellow who we are meant to consider intellectually challenged. (In a clear allusion to Of Mice and Men, the guy is named Len Arbuckle.)

Len offers to share his unwrapped lollipops with Charlie, and is (surprisingly) not rebuffed. Similarly, Charlie accepts gracefully when Len asks to sit next to him at lunch on his first day of school; an act which, as every schoolchild knows, will determine his social status for the rest of the year. Accordingly, he quickly becomes a target of the school bully Murphy Bivens.

Charlie hits upon a plan to both elevate his social standing and get rid of his unwanted doses of Ritalin; he uses Len to bodily compel Murphy into meeting with him, and has him sell the rest of his pills. The aftermath of the school dance where almost everybody is high includes Len chasing two giggling half-naked girls down the school hallway, wearing a bra and someone’s dress as a superhero cape. Good thing the school administration is largely absent, because a stunt like that is sure to get a special education student labeled as a sex offender in real life.

Soon the depressed and disaffected know that Charlie can get them the drugs that they have no access to, and Charlie brings their problems to a string of psychiatrists all too eager to write him a quick prescription without double-checking how many other drugs he’s supposedly using.

But if Charlie’s motivations in bilking his doctors and health insurance privileges in an effort to reassure his fellow students that “everything will be ok” are well-intentioned, he clearly hasn’t considered that he could be abusing the privileges afforded him. It’s always poverty-stricken Murphy holding the contraband, and easily-manipulated Len as the heavy. Should things hit the fan, it would be those two suffering the consequences. Len would be labeled violent and consigned to the worst circle-of-hell group home when he comes of age. Fortunately, Charlie is convinced of the folly of his methods before it’s too late, and pulls out of the drug-pushing business. Len is barely seen again in the film, except for a brief glimpse of him wistfully watching Charlie’s girlfriend singing.


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