Charlie St. Cloud, directed by Burr Steers opened today, and is likely playing at your local cineplex. The story is simple enough when you take the broad overview – There are two brothers in a small Pacific Northwest coastal town. Charlie St. Cloud played by Zac Efron, is a high school senior who is a masterful sailor and is headed to Stanford on a scholarship. His 11 year old younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) idolizes his older brother and the Boston Red Sox in that order. They live a middle class life that appears idyllic because the setting is a beautiful coastal town called Quincy Harbor. All is well…until a drunk driving accident takes Sam’s life and nearly costs Charlie his own life.
Charlie loses it at his brother’s funeral, as he runs off into the woods where Sam appears to him. Charlie agrees to meet Sam everyday at sunset to toss a baseball around. No matter what, come hell or high water…everyday, which brings Charlie’s life as a golden boy headed to Stanford, to a screeching halt.
At that point, Director Steers and his screenwriter Craig Pierce, who together adapted Ben Sherwood’s novel The Death and Life of Charlie St.Cloud into this movie,have just started tossing topics at us, as if we have suddenly become the third-party to a two-man juggling act. We are asked to think about such things as Why did Charlie survive and Sam die? Why did God allow this to happen? Is Charlie
1) seeing his dead brother…
2) dreaming that he is seeing his dead brother
3) thinking he can see, talk, and interact with his dead brother
5) or all of the above
Flash forward five years. Charlie is still in Quincy Harbor leading a near hermetic life as the cemetery care taker. Yes, that same cemetery where Sam is buried. Charlie has become known as the town’s ‘certifiable loon’. Since Sam died, he’s gone round the bend, so say the townsfolk.
Enter Amanda Crew, as Tess Carroll, a former classmate of Charlie’s in HS. She’s now ready to start a solo round-the-world voyage in a sailboat. The music swells, and we know romance is in the air. Or is it?
The line begins to blur and what appears to be reality may not be so. At this point melodramatics overtake the script, and somewhere it seems as if Burr Steers has lost his way.
But not his focus, as he shows one shot after another of the golden boy. While Zac Efron may indeed be good-looking, we need a sensible story along with those innumerable pretty closeups of the lead. When you watch people sailing, it is usually going to look pretty good – and they’ve nailed that. Vancouver’s coast and environs do indeed make a pretty picture, as do Zac and Amanda.
But the picture is cluttered with attempts to drag us into something more meta-physical and or sentimental than we need or want. For example Ray Liotta has just two scenes, first as the paramedic who pulls Charlie and Sam out of the wreck, and then later as a former paramedic who now has the Big C and isn’t long for this world. He says…Charlie,, God saved you…for a reason.. get out there and live your life…
And so it goes. The film has received decidedly less than enthusiastic reviews. Zac Efron will be attractive to horde’s of teen fans who may be satisfied with the look of the film, and be willing to overlook the lack of depth to the story, the manipulations, along with the cluttered philosophical questions tossed our way.
On the other hand, you might find that if the good looks, great sunsets, and superb sailing footage are most of what you liked or remembered about the film, then it is worth less than the cost of that overpriced, super large tub of popcorn that you paid for along with your ticket.