THE scourge of illegal drugs in playgrounds continues to be a worry for every parent, but an even greater concern should be the drugs given to youngsters with mum and dad’s blessing.
Following America’s lead, increasing numbers of British parents are mass-medicating their children to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), tiredness, stress and depression.
Prozac and Ritalin are becoming commonplace additions to the school lunchbox.
According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, prescriptions for mind-altering drugs and anti-depressants have increased more than four-fold within the past decade.
The statistics can only get worse.
Charlie Bartlett is a bittersweet schooldays comedy about a rebellious teenager battling his demons with the help of psychiatric drugs. He exploits this over-reliance on medication for personal gain.
He learns firsthand that a handful of pills is a quick-fix solution with dangerous side effects, and all his classmates really need is someone willing to listen to their problems.
Troubled teenager Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is bereft of a guiding paternal light (his father is in prison for tax evasion), while his wealthy mother (Hope Davis) spends entire days in a drug-induced haze.
Craving affection and attention, Charlie rebels against authority and after he is expelled from a private school, the youngster braves the strict social hierarchy of public high school.
At first, the new boy is a prime target for bully Murphy Bivens (Tyler Hilton) but Charlie quickly realises he can turn his outsider status to his advantage.
With Murphy as his business partner, Charlie transforms the boy’s toilets into an office and begins to dole out second-hand psychiatric advice and psychotropic drugs to fellow students, helping them come to terms with the pressures of fitting in.
Charlie’s popularity soars and he woos classmate Susan (Kat Dennings), whose father is Principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr).
However, when the covert counselling service inspires students to rebel against Gardner and his edicts, including camera surveillance in the common room, Charlie realises he may have gone too far.
Charlie Bartlett is a timely rites of passage story, sweetening the bitter pill of the laconic hero’s journey of self-discovery (“My family has a psychiatrist on call. How normal can that be?”) with droll humour and tender romance.
Yelchin delivers a winning lead performance as the misfit in charge of his own destiny.
He forges a wonderful screen partnership with Downey Jr whose tour de force portrayal of a self-loathing alcoholic tugs the heartstrings.
Beautifully scripted scenes, in which the two actors bare their characters’ damaged souls, are deeply moving.
Supporting performances are equally strong, not least Davis’ hysterical turn as an unfit mother (“Ritalin in the bag, dinner in the oven,” she scribbles to her son.)
These kids are more than all right.