Charly (2003) Movie Review

It’s no secret that the vast majority of filmmakers have a morbid and even twisted outlook on life. The same holds true for many film critics whose job it is to declare a movie worthwhile or not. I’ve never felt the need to immediately brand a movie seething in nihilism and brimming with all the perversities that life can offer a “work of genius”. You’ll excuse me if I don’t think finding the most awful thing in the whole wide world and showing it for 2 nonstop hours and calling it a “movie” is all that difficult to do. By the same token, I don’t feel it necessary to immediately pan a movie for its life-affirming message. I call that keeping an open mind.

The fact is, the more film critics heap undue praise on a movie that offers nothing but reasons to slit one’s wrist, the more these type of films will be made by freshly minted film students with delusions of being even more pretentious than they already are. Not surprisingly, films like “Charly”, which seeks to show the good side of life, continues to come out in trickles, while its “kill yourself, life sucks” counterpart continue to get cranked out by the dozens as if on an assembly line. After all, one can’t be “daring” unless one has absolutely nothing good to say about life. You’ll excuse me if I don’t find that particularly “insightful”. And also how “daring” can your movie really be if 5,000 other film school grads are doing the exact same thing at the exact same time? Throw in incest and gay themes and you’ll be sure to win film critic awards.

The above rant out of the way, “Charly” is a distinctly pro-religion movie starring Heather Beers as the titular Charly, a free-spirited young woman who arrives in Utah to stay with her family. Charly is a New Yorker, a city girl to the core, and when she meets upstanding Mormon Sam (Jeremy Elliot), Charly is ready to have some fun. Not with Sam, mind you, but rather at his expense. All that changes when she realizes that Sam’s deeply religious beliefs are not only worth exploring, but having done so she discovers they fill the empty void inside her that she didn’t even know existed. And as Charly starts to change, so does Sam.

Essentially a grown up version of “A Walk to Remember”, “Charly” stars two very charming actors who do amazing jobs. Jeremy Elliot (as the uptight Mormon) and Heather Beers have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are very believable. The presence of two very capable leads is a definite plus since the movie demands a lot out of them. We get a comedic first act, followed by a romantic second act, and a melodramatic third act. Of particular note is the film’s final 30 minutes, where the two actors break your heart with their performances.

“Charly” would seem to fit nicely into the expanding niche of religious films like “Joshua” and the “Left Behind” series, even though it doesn’t exactly hit one over the head with religion. Also, I’m sure the Mormon religion is different from Christianity, but I couldn’t really tell you since I’m neither Mormon nor Christian. There are a number of religious motifs that appear courtesy of director Adam Thomas Anderegg, and like “Walk”, “Charly” seems less concern with selling the religion than it is about focusing on the notion of faith, and the strong character and conviction one must possess in order to fully embrace it. I’ve often heard people refer to the acceptance of faith as some sort of weakness; if anything, I believe clinging to faith at all costs shows a stronger character trait than those who mocks it. It’s easy to dismiss something intangible like faith, but it takes real strength to hold onto it.

That’s not to say “Charly” is perfect. The movie’s first 20 minutes may be its weakest. Janine Whetten-Gilbert’s dialogue, especially the things we hear come out of Charly’s mouth, is downright silly at times. In an effort to be too “city girl” (i.e. hip and intellectual) Charly utters some unnatural sounding lines. Thankfully the film is very well put together by director Anderegg, and the pacing is fluid and never boring. “Charly” is probably the most expensive of the “religious movies” I’ve seen yet. Its aesthetics is on par with your average Hollywood film, which is good to see because I’ve often bemoaned the poor quality of films in this niche.

“Charly” is not a film for everyone. If your idea of a great movie requires the story to either depress the hell out of you or make you want to toss back a bottle of sleeping pills so you can escape this miserable experiment called life, then “Charly” will only make you angry. Despite the movie’s somber Third Act, this isn’t a depressing film at all. It’s about faith and the reaffirmation of life and, in a way, the afterlife. So if you can’t stop yourself from snickering at the idea that a movie can make you look at life with a smile, then you needn’t bother with “Charly”. You’re already beyond hope; mind as well grab those pill bottles and end it now.

Adam Thomas Anderegg (director) / Jack Weyland (novel), Janine Whetten-Gilbert (screenplay)
CAST: Jeremy Elliott …. Sam Roberts
Randy King …. Frank Roberts
Heather Beers …. Charlene ‘Charly’ Riley
Adam Johnson …. Mark Reynolds

Buy Charly on DVD