Tuesday, January 11, 2011

(Irreconcilable) thoughts on Charlie St. Cloud

What is Charlie St. Cloud? As a vehicle for the tween porn face of Zac Efron, it seems rather ill suited. Or rather, it functions, but only to the effect that it offers ample opportunity to peer at that bizarrely perfect mug for an hour and a half. The narrative is built around a 5 year passage of time, which accounts for the age that is (already?) beginning to creep up on that modern marvel. But the assumed schmaltz that might overwhelm the studio flick never quite arrives, trading instead for some head-scratching premonitions and turgid naturalism. Which is not to say that the whole thing doesn't still look like a Thomas Kincaid painting.

Charlie St. Cloud tells the story of a high school sailing champ (Efron), who receives a Stanford scholarship only to defer and waste away 5 years of precious surf-time tending the grounds of the local cemetery. See, he was behind the wheel when a drunk driver took the life of his younger brother but a sworn oath brings said bro back to play catch with our hero, every day one hour before sunset. Charlie almost died too in that car crash but he was miraculously brought back from the dead by a divine ambulance driver named Florian (Ray Liotta). And there's a girl too, but she and Charlie's divine powers of perception come in later.

Charlie St. Cloud was adapted from the best-seller called The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud which explains why certain things feel a tad rushed. I'll freely admit to watching this film twice. Two days in a row. I had to make sense of it. The first time, as first impressions of this article might evince, I saw nothing but the face of Zac Efron and those perfect blue whorls that he calls eyes (I'm convinced there's post-production involved, there). On the second sitting I was even more flumoxed by a narrative that was not melodramatic but paranormal - with many of those generic trappings in tow. Of course, we must remind ourselves that Efron doesn't have his hand in the Twilight pot, but this bid at an approximation feels too Hallmark for that reader/viewership. Charlie's death and resurrection make him prescient and he can converse with the dead, see. Play ball even, as he does with Sam for 5 years of his life, EVERY DAY. Putting in an utterly unmemorable performance as a girl who (on second viewing) is clipped into every shot of film before she is introduced (but is somehow still never familiar), Amanda Crew plays Charlie's spiritual savior, a girl with gumption who aims to sail around the world. They share a beautiful day at the cemetery (which, I'm sorry, but for Efron is both implausible and creepy) and she pushes him to pursue bigger and better things. He courts her, eventually making love. Until he realizes >SPOILER ALERT< she's actually lost at sea.

None of this takes on the level of paranormal head-scratching that found fleeting moments of bewildering satisfaction in The Lovely Bones nor is it really set up for a kind of ta-da reveal a la (of course) The Sixth Sense. It feels like a severely edited miniseries that's not enough Hallmark Channel, not kooky enough to be science fiction and not balls out enough to just be religious. It never mounts to the tacky kind of sensationalism such a loopy plot would cater to. It never really amounts to much more than... Oh, Zac Efron's face! But it's weirdly aging. Putting him next to a deliriously overblown Liotta doesn't help matters at all, particularly once the "Five Years Later" has its way with the narrative and whisks Charlie's mother, Kim Basinger, back to Malibu... er... Portland (she later phones in). I have a feeling I'll watch it again. Maybe alongside the Keanu Reeves / Sandra Bullock reunion vehicle, The Lake House. Could this be a new genre of cinema? But that implausible tale of time travel is frenzied by its utter inability to make sense of out its set-up. While Charlie St. Cloud is never quite as frantic or jazzy as all of this, you still have that archetype of a face, that mug of perfection that resembles not a boy who has died and been given a second chance. But one that's been plucked, straight out the box.

As an addendum, I would like to note that before seeing this film and even exiting my repeated sittings, I have no crushy affiliation towards Mr. Efron. Such is the power of cinema.


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