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Charlie St. Cloud (2010)

A movie directed by Burr Steers

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He Sees Dead People

  • Jul 30, 2010
"Charlie St. Cloud" would be the love child of a Nicholas Sparks novel and an M. Night Shyamalan film, were such a thing possible. It's on the one hand a relentlessly sentimental tearjerker and on the other hand a supernatural mystery, with a throwaway plot twist added for good measure. To say this film is awful would be harsh. Still, it certainly doesn't aspire to be anything more than what it so obviously is, so seeing this movie really isn't necessary - unless, of course, you're a tweenybopper hoping to lose yourself in the dreamy recesses of Zac Efron's eyes. That may, in fact, be the only reason he was cast, since the role is so generic that any actor could have played it to more or less the same effect. I suppose it doesn't really matter; his performance is decent enough, and I'm sure he will someday be recognized as the dramatic actor he always wanted to be.

Adapted from Ben Sherwood's novel "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud," the premise is that the title character, played by Efron, gains the ability to see ghosts after surviving a car accident. One of the ghosts is his kid brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), who unfortunately was in the car when it crashed. Every day at sunset, the two meet in a secluded spot in the woods to play catch, since, in life, Sam was a devoted Baseball fan. It's a nice idea, although the filmmakers never take full advantage of Charlie's sixth sense, not even after he gives up on college and yacht racing, stays in his seaside hometown, and becomes a cemetery groundskeeper. The details of the plot prevent me from elaborating on this, but rest assured, he doesn't see anywhere near as many dead people as you might think.

Despite his reputation as a nutcase (which is itself painfully underdeveloped), Charlie attracts the attention of local yacht enthusiast Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), who hopes to sail around the world and tests herself by heading into rough, stormy waters. As their relationship turns romantic, Sam - or rather, his ghost - begins to worry that he will be forgotten. Tess, in turn, tells Charlie that, at some point, he has to let go. He can't let go, he tells Tess. He made Sam a promise. This, of course, will be challenged in due time, although I'm afraid I can't say any more than that.

I'm making this sound like a complete film, but the truth is that everything about "Charlie St. Cloud" feels oddly condensed and unfocused. It's well established, for example, that Charlie can speak to Sam's ghost, but that's about it as far as character development is concerned. Never once do we see anything resembling brotherly love - anything, at least, the goes beyond the obvious spectacle of a young man and a boy playing catch in the woods. Likewise, we don't see any real love blooming between Charlie and Tess, maybe because (1) it happens far too quickly for us to believe it, and (2) we don't know that much about either one of them. For all I know, this may be more an issue of editing than of how the screenplay was written. Whatever the case, the film is so sparse that, even when it leads to something thematically, characteristically, or structurally, there's no sense that anything has led anywhere.

Other touches, like Charlie's encounter with the paramedic who saved his life (Ray Liotta), do little more than serve as an excuse for sermonizing. I don't mind being sermonized to, but the message involved has to have some thematic significance. What this movie tells us about life, living, and letting go is ultimately so broad and disconnected from the material that it fails to resonate. It's bad enough that the paramedic just happens to be sick with cancer upon reuniting with Charlie; this isn't plot advancement, but emotional manipulation, and that never, ever works when presented so obviously. At least, it never, ever works for me. This is the kind of overwrought storytelling that keeps me at a distance from Nicholas Sparks film adaptations. It seems he has had quite an influence. Will no one learn from his mistakes?

I will give this movie credit for its cinematography, with wonderful shots of picturesque harbors, open waters, and quaint shacks filling the scenery. A sequence of Efron and Crew frolicking through a foggy, moonlit cemetery is especially memorable; what would normally be associated with the Universal horror movies of old is instead a surprisingly effective example of high romance, if not mild eroticism. The film looks so good that it's a shame more of an effort wasn't put into the plot, the tone, and the characters. "Charlie St. Cloud," despite having its heart in the right place, is too sappy, too meandering, and too weak in its story. The only real draw this movie has for audiences is Zac Efron, although it may be a moot point since he's actively trying to outgrow his teen heartthrob status.

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More Charlie St. Cloud (2010) reviews
review by . November 15, 2010
Zac Efron is doing all he can to be taken seriously after his High School Musical phase, and he has taken steps in the right direction. Such as Me and Orson Welles which was an under appreciated movie that didn't have a broad appeal. His resume now shows that he can be artsy and bring in the female tween demographic. With Charlie St. Cloud I think he tries to reach a slightly older audience. While he may reach that audience the message he brings is utter shit.      Efron …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Teen heartthrob Zac Efron (High School Musical,17 Again) makes an appealing, and wise, choice as the star ofCharlie St. Cloud. Efron is able to flex his dramatic acting abilities and can stretch, ever so slightly, into a more adult role, without alienating or being off-putting to his dedicated young fans. And Efron shows signs of being a terrific young actor, with nuanced skills that have perhaps been overlooked until now, because of his appealing pinup-boy looks. Efron is delicious eye candy inCharlie St. Cloud, no question (though he has to share some of that role with the beautiful British Columbia coastline where the film is set), but he also carries the entire film, which manages to be family drama, tragedy, adventure, and budding love story--with a good dose of "live your life to the fullest" advice built in. Efron plays the title character, a gifted student and sailor who gets a full scholarship to Stanford. But right after graduation, Charlie is involved in a life-changing tragedy--one that shatters his family and his own sense of his place in the world. Efron's Charlie is a lost young man, dedicated to the aftereffects of the tragic accident, and turns from promising young upstart to pitiable recluse--so reclusive that he lives and works at the local graveyard. The entire cast is wonderful, and they put their hearts into the sad, yet ultimately uplifting story. Young Charlie Tahan is winsome as Charlie's younger brother, Sam. Kim Basinger, too long ...
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Director: Burr Steers
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 99 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
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"He Sees Dead People"
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