As a general rule, film critics are rather cynical. So, it should come as no surprise to you that the vast majority of film critics, especially those who approach criticism from a more intellectual foundation, will choose to pan Charlie St. Cloud, former High School Musical star Zac Efron's latest attempt to move past teenybopper fare and into more serious cinematic endeavors.
Film critics are not quite ready to let go of Efron's High School Musical days and, at best, his most recent efforts in film have been met with the sort of wary jadedness usually reserved for pop stars who try to become actors.
It doesn't help that Efron is just so darn beautiful. I kinda sorta feel like that camera guy in Orgazmo who always says "I'm not queer or nothing, but I have to tell you that you're really hot."
Let's be honest - Zac Efron is really hot. While being "hot" may get you lots of Hollywood opportunities, it can also pigeonhole an actor or actress into roles that don't require much more than showing up, smiling and looking hot. With the exception of the Disney fanzines, Efron is the kind of hot that irritates the heck out of the press and, whether or not we admit it, causes us to turn against him.
It also doesn't help that Efron made a big deal out of choosing more adult roles then showed up in 17 Again, a decidedly non-adult role also helmed by this film's director Burr Steers.
All of these things don't and shouldn't matter when viewing Charlie St. Cloud, a film that does mark Efron's continued growth as an actor and far more successful transition to actual acting than, say, fellow "pretty boy" actor Robert Pattinson, whose forays into adult cinema have been thus far forgettable, emo retreads serving only to create serious doubts about Pattinson's post-Twilight cinematic life.
Zac Efron has a future in Hollywood. Efron is attractive, soulful and, most stunningly of all, actually talented. While he's certainly no Henry Fonda or Philip Seymour Hoffman at this point, Efron appears to be taking his craft seriously and is showing an increasing ability to back up his "pretty boy" looks with soulful, centered performances.
Charlie St. Cloud is a much better film than most critics will have you believe.
In the film, Efron's Charlie is an attractive, promising young high school senior who appears well on his way to a successful future with an adoring family, a hero-worshipping little brother (Charlie Tahan) and a recently received college scholarship that will seal the deal on Charlie's escaping this sleepy town in the picturesque yet lifeless Pacific Northwest. Everything changes when a tragedy strikes that devastates Charlie and seemingly destroys his hopes and dreams. Time passes and eventually an old high school pal, Tess (Amanda Crew), returns to town. Before long, Charlie is forced to choose between a grief-centered promise and a newfound love.
Schmaltzy? To a certain degree, undoubtedly. After all, when isn't young love rather schmaltzy?
Despite moments of contrived romance and dissolution into weepy melodrama, Charlie St. Cloud is the kind of film that most "real people" enjoy because it reminds them that there is always hope, always a way to survive life's most harrowing moments and experiences. Similar in tone but in theme to a Nicholas Sparks type film, Charlie St. Cloud is an unashamed film about hope, redemption, surviving and loving. The film requires the ability to surrender to its maudlin, hopeful tones with the type of abandon that most experienced with The Notebook.
Don't deny it. You surrendered to The Notebook.
The relationship between Charlie and Tess is played with a sense of realism, though it occasionally collapses under the weight of dialogue that rings hollow. Yet, Efron and Amanda Crew have a nice, balanced chemistry and together they keep Charlie St. Cloud from the relationship becoming overly cliche'd.
Rolfe Kent's original score over emotes and too often crashes home the film's abundant sentimentality, though D.P. Enrique Chediak's camera work gives the film pristine imagery that both emphasizes the beauty of the surrounding nature while beautifully capturing the human element.
There's no denying that Charlie St. Cloud is a flawed film, a film that too often plays out as a schmaltzy, over-emoting greeting card cinematic experience rather than an actual film. Yet, there's something about Charlie St. Cloud that makes the film ever so slightly above similarly themed films that all too often fail.
Zac Efron is a growing actor, and his only true weakness here is his inability to reach the film's emotional depths. Efron gives an otherwise satisfying performance, and his chemistry with Amanda Crew is believable and, despite weak dialogue, surprisingly involving. Between Efron's winning performance and Crew's intelligent turn, Charlie St. Cloud is better than you might expect and infinitely better than film critics will have you believe.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic