MOVIE REVIEW: Charlie shows maturity as ghostly drama
Loss and letting go form the emotional core of “Charlie St. Cloud,” a film avoiding maudlin sentimentality in favor of something softer. The less-intense approach doesn’t mean “Charlie St. Cloud” elicits false tears. Rather, the film’s relative subtlety adds to its appeal as a ghostly fable.
“Charlie St. Cloud” stars Zac Efron in his second film demanding a more dramatic approach, following last year’s surprising “Me and Orson Welles.” In this film, based on a popular 2004 novel, Efron plays the title character, talented and a little overconfident and self-assured as he prepares to leave his Pacific Northwest town for a Stanford scholarship.
When he does, Charlie will leave behind a hard-working single mother (Kim Basinger) and younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), whom Charlie adores, even as he sometimes forgets to give him enough attention. When Sam is killed within the first several minutes of the story, in an accident Charlie blames on himself, it changes everything for Charlie. He defers his scholarship and becomes a caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried, and spends evenings as the sun sets meeting his brother —- or at least an image of his brother —- in a nearby clearing for a game of catch.
Both Charlie and Sam are stuck in place, and it will take unlikely intervention from the determined young Tess (Amanda Crew) to shake Charlie from his lingering sorrow, and help him recognize that the strange gift he possesses for seeing things others can’t could be used to finally propel him toward living life to the fullest.
“Charlie St. Cloud” may emerge to many as an overfamiliar ghostly romantic drama, but in that realm, it accomplishes what it can without a lot of forced emotion and overplaying of themes. The film looks good set in the beauty of the British Columbia mountains and on its rough-hewn seas, the ocean playing a big role in the metaphors surrounding its characters.
The film is directed by Burr Steers, who guided Efron through the much more forgettable “17 Again,” and this time the pairing works better. (Steers also directed the clever cult fave “Igby Goes Down”). While many shots seem an excuse to linger on Efron’s flawless physical features, the actor summons the depth and sincerity required to make Charlie genuine. While “Charlie St. Cloud” can’t be called an instant genre classic —- too many ghostly romantic dramas show more creative weight —- the film is mature enough to hold its own.
“Charlie St. Cloud”
*** (out of four)
Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan
Director: Burr Steers
Studio: Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13 — for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality
Running time: 99 minutes