Charlie St. Cloud Review

poster from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

I feel like I’m watching one of my campers grow up. It seems like just yesterday I was watching Firefly (okay, so it actually WAS yesterday, but only because it’s on DVD), seeing little Zac Efron as Young Simon Tam, all sparkle-eyed and eager like my youngest campers, running around going “look at me! I’m ACTING!”

Then they get a little older and a little broodier and a little more likely to burst into song (okay, maybe not that last part in real life), until all of a sudden you come back to visit one day and they’re all grown up and wanting to be taken seriously as camp counselors themselves (or, you know, as a movie character who is not in high school).

Sometimes it’s hard to adjust your perceptions of youngins when they grow up, and Charlie St. Cloud may only be a baby step away from the angsty halls of High School Musical, but it’s a step nonetheless, so this is me adjusting.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, good. Don’t. It gives away too much. I’ll give you just enough right here:

When Charlie discovers he can see his dead little brother, he gives up college and sailing to be a graveyard caretaker, until sailing re-enters his life in the form of a girl and he finds himself torn between hanging on to the past and letting go.

I can sort of see why they did what they did with the trailer. There’s not a lot of peril inherent in the non-spoiler version. But suffice it to say there is peril, and it is good. As for the rest of it, you’ll have to read the review.


I was not surprised, when I went to the theater to see Charlie St. Cloud, that the theater was full of women (there were about three men, all of them reluctantly accompanying women). I was surprised to see that not all of them were from Tiger Beat’s primary demographic (i.e. teens and tweens). In fact, I would say probably 60% of them were older women in their 40s and 50s.

At first I wondered if they were the Cougar branch of the Zac Efron Fan Club, but then I realized that the current theater schedule looks like this:

Kids’ Movie
Kids’ Movie
Kids’ Movie
Kids’ Movie
Vampire Movie
Doofus Movie
Doofus Movie
Confusing Movie
Action Movie
Charlie St. Cloud

I’s no wonder they were all so excited. Charlie St. Cloud is the only movie that’s come out all summer that they’re even remotely interested in seeing. They weren’t disappointed with it, either, and neither was I (though I didn’t clap when the movie was over).

Charlie’s brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) isn’t some pint-sized saint tragically snatched away before his time (except for the tragic and the snatching parts). He’s an annoyingly realistic little brat whose decision to show up to play catch with his brother every day at sunset is simultaneously helping and hindering Charlie.

Charlie and Sam playing baseball from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

Why is it that behaviors we would call “dickheaded” in older people are cute in kids?

Charlie’s also got a squeaky voiced British pal named Alastair (Augustus Prew) and a hilariously persistent flock of geese plaguing the cemetery to provide a little comic relief.

White Goose by Pigpom on Flickr

We had geese at camp once. They crapped all over the lower field and Sam fell in it. Classic.

And of course, there’s a girl: Tess (Amanda Crew). She’s pretty, she’s cool, and even though she’s the one about to sail around the world, she’ll listen to broody graveyard caretakers’ ideas on whale-based sailboat design.

Tess and Charlie from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

See, the corpses go here, and here…

It’s funny: after his brother’s death, Charlie becomes the graveyard caretaker, and everyone in town starts treating him as if he’s a stereotypically creepy old man, even though he’s got about 45 years to go before he can legitimately be considered old. Charlie buys into this, too, and hardly ever goes out, so it’s important that Tess be willing to go on dates in a cemetery.

Charlie in the graveyard from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

Graveyards + Darkness = Romance instead of terror. That’s a new one.

This love story part is the reason all those women showed up, but the best part, for me, was watching a youngin stretch his acting muscles. Unlike in the bouncy High School Musical films, Zac Efron is actually called on to emote on occasion. No doubt there are many who doubt he could do it at all, but lo and behold: success.

Charlie is upset, from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

*Sob* my dead brother, etc.

Coming in a close second were the sailing bits. Sailing looks fun. I can easily overlook the fact that Charlie’s family is supposed to be poor (an irrelevant fact carried over from the book version, no doubt) but they can afford to have a sailboat. Maybe it’s a cheap sailboat.

Charlie and Sam sailing from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

It’s certainly a small sailboat

Even with everything they give away in the trailer, there’s still enough held in reserve for the movie to be interesting, even surprising at times. It’s a bit like The Ghost Whisperer but with a bit of god-y stuff thrown in (not enough to be really annoying, though).

Charlie and Florio the paramedic from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

”God gave you a second chance,” etc

It gets a bit gooey near the end, but this is a drama. If it, director Burr Steers and screenwriters Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick would be strung up on a meat hook in the center of town by the Weepy Drama Appreciation Society of North America (whose members were sitting all around me).

Like most weepy dramas (actually, it’s not all that weepy. There was welling but no shedding), it’s based on a weepy book: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood.

cover for the book The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

Oh look, someone besides Nicholas Sparks writes Nicholas Sparks novels

I wonder why this is always necessary. There are plenty of screenwriters out there with original ideas for weepy dramas. I’m guessing that dramas aren’t such a great return on investment for studios, so they need the combined purchasing power of book fans, the Weepy Drama Society, and the Zac Efron Club to make a go of it. Ergo not many of them come out, and older women have to stay home on Saturday nights and watch The Notebook on DVD.

Charlie St. Cloud is a good movie. It’s got sailing and it’s not as lame and weepy as a Nicholas Sparks story. My only complaints are: 1) I could’ve used a tiny bit more closure on the brother thing and 2) what the hell face is that Zac Efron is making in the poster??

Charlie from the Universal Pictures film Charlie St. Cloud

Oh my God, it’s full of stars!… and I’m not interested.

If you like drama, have ever had trouble getting over someone you lost, are a fan of Zac Efron, or sail as a hobby, you’ll enjoy this movie. So get out there and support it with your ticket purchase so in the future there will be more options for older ladies’ nights out than bingo or bingo.

Buy some weepy dramas for your DVD collection

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