Jon Poll, an established editor with credits including the Austin Powers and Meet The Parents films, makes a commendable directorial debut with Charlie Bartlett, a high-school comedy which sits in the same class of wry, deadpan movies as Rushmore, Election and Saved!. Sunnier and more cheerful than all three of those titles, it could also appeal to a younger audience and has a shot at developing a cult following in the wider teen crowd that lapped up Mean Girls and School Of Rock.
Having said that, Charlie Bartlett's 'indie' credentials are impeccable, from the casting of stalwarts Hope Davis and Robert Downey Jr to its non-studio financing by new independent Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. It is scheduled to open domestically through MGM on August 3, a week ahead of Picturehouse's similarly-themed Rocket Science, and should work as healthy counter-programming to late summer blockbusters such as The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3.
International buyers often dismiss high school comedies as too parochial unless they are broad enough to catch on like American Pie or Cruel Intentions or original enough to stand out like Spellbound.
But if the likes of Pretty Poison and Thumbsucker were too small to make much of an overseas impression, Charlie Bartlett has a bold enough concept - a posh boy becomes school shrink and drug-dealer - to attract attention in any marketplace.
The first produced screenplay from new writer Gustin Nash, Charlie Bartlett is an amusing creation. The privileged son of a wealthy family, he has been expelled from every private school he has ever attended by hatching illegal schemes in an attempt to win popularity.
When he finally gets to public school - there are no more private schools that will take him - he is initially loathed for his smart clothes, briefcase and upper-crust manner, but he soon wins his classmates over when he sets up an amateur psychiatric service in the men's toilets, offering life advice and pharmaceutical drugs for their every need.
Bartlett is played with wide-eyed optimism and charming naïvete by Anton Yelchin, a 17 year-old actor with multiple credits to his name including Alpha Dog, Fierce People and Hearts In Atlantis.
The red-haired Yelchin invests Charlie with a wounded vulnerability and desperation to be liked which, combined with his ballsy bravado, make for a sort of neurotic intellectual Ferris Bueller.
Poll and Nash create a colourful tapestry of characters and situations to surround Charlie. Davis is effervescent as his adoring mother Marilyn, who treats him as the man of the house since his father is in jail for tax embezzlement.
Downey - in yet another role as an alcoholic - plays the booze-doused school principal whose disillusionment with his job finds focus in nailing Charlie, and Kat Dennings is sweet and tough as the principal's unconventional daughter who takes a shine to Charlie and takes his virginity.
Underpinning the comedy is a melancholy theme about contemporary kids and their reliance on medication, but, unlike the dark and twisted Election, Charlie Bartlett ends on an upbeat note of redemption and lessons learned.
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Robert Downey Jr