Starring Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Ray Liotta and Kim Basinger. Directed by Burr Steers. PG
As much as everyone loves to make fun of Justin Bieber, we really should bow down to the shaggy dog of a tween idol. Why, you non-Bieblievers ask? He allowed Zac Efron to break free his long-reigning post as the biggest name in superficial, song-and-dance man-boy-dom and get a start on his post-High School Musical big-screen life.
Since Bieber, his “Baby” face and his perfect bangs hit the charts, Zac has backed out of a safe-yet-leading role in the Footloose musical remake (a somewhat-wise decision, depending on who you’re talking to), made a raunchy quest-appearance on Robot Chicken, starred in his first drama (the highly ignored Me and Orson Welles) and filmed the movie that will either be his Romeo + Juliet (read: maker) or his Summer Catch (read: majorly awkward breaker), Charlie St. Cloud.
The hopelessly dramatic film is what every Nicholas Sparks movie should be these days, but isn’t. Whereas recent Sparks outings (Dear John, The Last Song) split their so-so stories between lukewarm lust and non-surprising death scenes, Charlie St. Cloud has a clear, heart-wrenching-yet-heart-warming focus.
Charlie St. Cloud revolves around three equally engaging residents of a small sailboat-filled fishing town: Charlie, a teenage sailing champ (Efron), Tess, a local sailor girl (Amanda Crew) and Sam, Charlie’s Red Sox-obsessed little brother (Charlie Tahan). At the start of the film, Tess is a lovesick outsider, looking in on Charlie’s seemingly perfect professional (they sail together) and personal (they play ball together every night at sunset) partnership with Sam. But after Charlie loses his little bro in a terrible car accident, she heads to college and loses touch with her former crush. Meanwhile, Charlie, still traumatized by Sam’s passing (he was the driver), returns to the duo’s mid-nightly meeting spot daily and plays catch with a ghostly version of his brother.
Fast forward a few years. Tess is back in town for the summer and Charlie, now a graveyard janitor, is still hung-up on making it up to Sam. But after the two connect over her father’s weedy headstone, Charlie starts to let go of his guilt (and Sam!) and give into some quality summer lovin’ with the gal. As he gets closer to Tess, he begins to lose Sam, steering him into the eye of the summer drama’s storm of a story.
Charlie St. Cloud may be pretty melodramatic in the storyline department, but it’s the kind of escapist chick flick drama every moviegoer needs at least once a summer. Sure, the writers seem to have gone to the Dawson’s Creek school of overly educated teen-speak (sample Tess dialogue: “He flummoxed me.”) and the plot seems like a mishmash of Lifetime dramas. But the acting is better than you’d expect and the final twist is perfect for the willingly teary kind.
Speaking of crying, watch out for the tearjerkiness of Mr. Tahan (I Am Legend, Nights in Rodanthe). I’m sure it helps that he looks eerily similar to Zac and has an natural, tease-y-going brotherly vibe with the former Disney star, but the boy genuinely pulls at your heartstrings, especially during the later scenes where he has to cope with the slowly fading presence of his living brother. I won’t elaborate, but don’t go without Kleenex if you have a sibling who is 11 years old and loves pizza a bit too much.
Zac also creates some moving moments with his take on Charlie St. Cloud‘s title character, providing us with both extended scenes of necessary eye candy and genuine distress. He’s not perfect (his eyebrows tend to furrow a whole bunch when he’s distraught, excited or pensive) and really, neither is the movie, but his abs, and boy band baby blues, really are. And that’s just enough to keep the wind in his super-jacked sails. B-