Ever watched something where your feelings on it are totally in a jumble at its close? No doubt we each have that one movie that is only described as such. My thoughts on this drama – praised for its emerging leading man but thought mediocre story-wise, were exactly those…
Although, they aren’t given to name recognition, Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has become one of the most skilled sailors at his small-town sailing club, and is the one to beat. He dominates in nearly every race with the assistance of his pesky little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). Post high school, the only reason Charlie is heading to a prestigious college is thanks to his skill on the waters. Graduation come and gone means that parties are popular spots for those seniors about to make their own way -- including two of Charlie’s buddies shipping out to boot camp. Those plans are disrupted by mom leaving Charlie home with Sam while she picks up an extra shift. Assuming sneaking out to be simple, Charlie’s plans are foiled and instead of staying home, Sam demands to be dropped at a friends’. It’s the one decision Charlie makes that will forever change his life when a drunk driver slams into their car, killing Sam and nearly taking Charlie’s life. Five years later and Charlie remains in the coastal town.
His mother now out west, Charlie’s routine consists of a job at the cemetery where Sam is buried but the fog he is living in never lifts. Given his condition when paramedics found Charlie, it’s something of a miracle that he is alive; in-between chasing geese off the grounds, remembering his promise of summer past, every day at sunset the two brothers “meet” to play catch. Charlie gleans an interest in sailing again when news spreads a local sailor, Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew) plans to attempt sailing solo around the world. The closer he gets to Tess, the more Sam slips away.
Anything remotely related to “supernatural” isn’t my idea of cinematic greatness, but something about this film was intriguing, likely that was in part because of its star. I had known what the bond between the brothers entailed (Charlie willing Sam still alive), what I did not realize was that, likewise a love story followed suit. To be fair to this story, first I must admit that I am fond of The Lake House, and while this isn’t realized nearly as beautifully, it does take a certain talent to pull off without seeming “creepy.” Moments do seem a bit ridiculous, taken to the extreme when there was no cause, but at its best, all we really can feel is optimism that something will align the heroes’ world again rather than wishing what he cannot have. Where things do stumble is the relationship between Tess and Charlie. It isn’t given the time it needed, considering it’s supposed to be, and does come across as what forces Charlie to reality. From three conversations (at least two of which were “imagined”), we are expected to believe that Charlie falls hard for Tess, a summer romance sets up as a “no strings attached” type; we see them become intimate (although they really don’t) and claim to feel a connection. Though not a bad story, some of the admirable qualities still needed polishing with exception to its ability to surprise. Part of that came from my not doing my usual “research,” but partial ability should and does go to the writers and filmmakers. That and the fact that the leading man does carry this really well; many of us will find that surprising, but he proves he can do a dramatic piece just as well as a teen heartthrob role, making me already look forward to future roles.
Going against my “standard” of viewing, I enjoyed not knowing where every plot thread was going and instead was thrown for a loop midway through, thinking one outcome and given another. Thankfully the actual scenario was more pleasant than the imagined. But where writers have these good aspects going can also be seen as potential ruin. Much of the story is confusing in that we aren’t ever certain just what is going on or why some events weren’t more of an issue when the preceding scene and/or conversation suggested they would be. Taking cues from its original title, ironically, Charlie finds his redemption, and we can breathe a sigh of relief that he’ll enjoy life, given a second chance. Depending on your faith, some may find this a “troubling” film but ultimately, it is merely a unique story. There is definitely an expectation through this whole film that everything is a dream rather than real, but confirmation comes when needed. And, ironically imagination is something Charlie St. Cloud is in no shortage of.
(Rated PG13: there is some playful flirting – removal of clothing, along with some kissing. One shot sees a couple lying in one another’s arms apparently naked [in a graveyard]. There is a fatal car wreck. Charlie “sees” those who have passed away in his life. Culminating in the final moments, a dramatic rescue attempt takes place. Profanity is rare but not exempt [sh*t, he*l, a**, and an “oh my god!”]. One guy gets drunk, a punch is thrown, things are tossed about; a few other crude sexual references are heard. There is some inappropriate clothing.)