Charlie St. Cloud (Burr Steers, 2010)
Category: Sad film about a dead younger brother. We’ve been at this for a while, and in order to differentiate among the many sad movies out there, the blog feels that it is necessary for these categories to start getting more and more specific. Sorry, Saving Private Ryan, but Matt Damon was the youngest of those four. You don’t get to say you’re in the same category as Charlie St. Cloud. Harsh, I know. But it’s time to get tough.
This is also a sad film featuring the star of the High School Musical films. Look for more (Taste My) Efron on the blog when we tackle the upcoming Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Lucky One, out April 20. We here at the blog are counting down the hours to that day. It’s one of the few things the blog has in common with “people who love to smoke marijuana.” (It’s basically the 4/20 countdown and that we are both often hungry.)
My familiarity with this issue: I was at a party with a kid who looked exactly like Zac Efron once, and I drunkenly yelled at him, from across the room, that I loved him in Charlie St. Cloud. I don’t think I’ve been invited back to that house since.
As for the categories at hand: I do not have a younger brother. I have an older brother and a younger sister, and neither of them is dead. I have also never seen the HSM films. Zefron fans, these are your excuses to bash me if I hate this movie. I’d like to think that this blog is frequently discussed on the Zefron fan community’s message boards. They’ve been waiting for this day for over a year. (Other communities devoted to the blog hopefully include: Sparks fans, the gays, and sad high school girls with LiveJournals).
I honestly know very little about this movie. I know the kid dies, and that’s about it. In preparing for this post, I read some reviews that dismissed it as Nicholas Sparks-esque twaddle. That kind of shit is pretty much like the Bat-Signal for me. I’m pumped.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Charlie St. Cloud is a young man overcome by grief at the death of his younger brother. So much so that he takes a job as caretaker of the cemetery in which his brother is buried. Charlie has a special lasting bond with his brother though, as he can see him. Charlie meets up with his brother (Sam) each night to play catch and talk. Then, a girl comes into Charlie's life and he must choose between keeping a promise he made to Sam, or going after the girl he loves.” I enjoyed this one. The guy says “his brother” four times before he realizes he can mention the kid’s name.
What I thought of the movie/How I related to the movie: I started to hate it instantly. As in, the first instant that images appeared on the screen. It’s a sailboat race. I hate sailing. I hate sailboats, and I generally hate people who enjoy sailing (except former top GW sailer and FOTB Katie Ross). So it was an uphill climb from the beginning.
Charlie St. Efron and Li’l Sam, who wears a Red Sox hat (UGHHHH another thing to hate already), win the race. They’re not as rich as the other participants (obviously, because then we wouldn’t like them); they also have a single mom (Kim Basinger, who is in the movie for maybe seven minutes) who has to work lots of extra shifts and stuff. (They still have a sailboat, though.) But Efron’s got a scholarship to Stanford for sailing! All is well in the Pacific Northwest.
On the night he graduates from high school, Zef and the bro play catch, and the bro pouts about the fact that Zef seems excited to leave and go to college. (I know he’s only 11, but still, shut up kid. College is awesome.) He promises the kid that they’ll practice baseball every day until he leaves at the end of the summer. The movie wants to establish that they have a close relationship, but in these scenes it actually seems kind of weird and off-putting, like two people in a bad relationship (they hit each other and make each other feel guilty a lot). I blame the kid for this. And not just because he's a Red Sox fan.
Later that night, he’s driving the kid to his friend’s house before going to a graduation kegger. Waiting for traffic to pass before making a left turn, Eff-Eff turns his wheels into the intersection, WHICH YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. The former driver ed teacher of the blog (FDETOTB) Mr. Ott taught me this. You’re supposed to keep your wheels straight so that if you get rear-ended, you won’t be propelled into oncoming traffic. So of course he gets rear-ended (not really intended as a gay joke, but you can have it if you want), and the car gets T-boned by a truck.
Sam’s dead, but Effie White gets revived in the ambulance by paramedic Ray Liotta. This is the conversation that the ambulance driver and Liotta have as they speed toward the hospital:
Driver: “Give it up, the kid’s flatlining. It’s a lost cause.”
Liotta: “There’s no such thing as a lost cause.”
I have never been in an ambulance before, so I don’t really know what paramedics say to each other. But I know they don’t say that.
At the kid’s funeral, Chuck gets all sad and runs into a clearing in the woods, where he sees the kid. Ha-whaaaa? He agrees to keep his promise. I’m thinking, that’s nice, play catch with the ghost of your brother for a couple of months, and then go off to Stanford for free.
Cut to this title card: “FIVE YEARS LATER.”
Now I’m no lawyer, but the promise that Chazz made was only intended to last the summer! Maybe they amended the contract in a deleted scene. Either way, he’s still in town. He’s working as the caretaker at the graveyard where the kid is buried, close to the clearing where they play catch. Every. Day. Even Kim Basinger moved away! Even the grieving mother finds it all a bit much after a certain point. Jeez. (Also, the other graveyard employee is this handsome young British guy. The fact that the two graveyard employees are both handsome young dudes might be the most unrealistic thing in the movie. And this is a movie that is about playing catch with a ghost.) (Also also, he has a conversation with his buddy from high school who went into the military and died. So it’s established that he can see and talk to other dead people aside from just his brother.)
There’s a scene where Liotta runs into Charzef and they have a weirdly tense cup of coffee. Liotta has cancer, and he says to the kid, there’s a reason that I was able to save you and give you a second chance at life, so you need to, like, use this gift and all that. Maybe I’ve been watching too many medical shows these days, but reviving people with those paddles, as Liotta did, seems to be pretty commonplace. Also, that’s a bit heavy to lay on an obviously troubled kid you haven’t seen for five years, isn’t it? Every interaction in this movie is just so laden with unnecessary guilt and unnatural weirdness. It’s tremendously off-putting.
So then there’s this girl, who we see in the initial sailboat race, and at Charizard’s graduation, and she’s gearing up to sail around the world by herself. Which seems unnecessary, but sure! She’s back in town for a few days, and ends up, along with everyone in the town, at the local bar. I should also note that this girl is very toothy. Like, distractingly toothy.
Even known hermit Charlie St. Ash Ketchum is at the bar. There were two rich douchey sailing types from the beginning of the movie who show up as well. One of them is black, by the way, which was more than a little incongruous, and not really what I think Dr. King had in mind, but anyway. He urges our boy Charles to take a Jager bomb, saying, “It’s not like there’s a big demand for you as a designated driver.” Awesome burn, man. Real smooth. (Charlie punches him out, by the way. It was the only time in the movie where I liked him. I hope this means that I am not a racist.)
Fron-Fron and the girl reconnect. He asks if he can make her dinner, and she accepts, I think (the DVD skipped around a little at this part and I did not have the patience to rewind and try to figure it out). The next day, she goes off for a sail, testing out her boat by sailing it into a big storm. This will be important later.
At dinner that night they drink wine and talk about how she doesn’t like baseball (GET OUTTTTT). She seems to deal with the fact that he lives adjacent to a graveyard pretty well. She also seems to deal with the fact that the house is pretty much a shrine to the dead brother pretty well. Fron Swanson points out Sam’s collection of “thousands of vintage Red Sox baseball cards.” I don’t mean to be insensitive, because the kid is dead and all that. But I collected baseball cards. You don’t just collect baseball cards from your own team. You collect all of them. I had tons of Red Sox baseball cards. This kid was an idiot if he was passing up non-Red Sox cards on principle. I bet the Robinson Cano rookie card will totally be worth a ton one day. But I guess you’re dead so it doesn’t really matter anyway.
Charlie (I think I'm out of nicknames) senses that Toothy McGee is down2clown and goes for it, but she stops him, saying that she’s leaving in a few days. She leaves, but moments later changes her mind, knocks on the door and runs away, luring him outside (and causing him to run through a dark wooded area holding a candle aloft; DON’T TRIP, CHARLIE, THIS IS HOW FOREST FIRES START).
It was then that I remembered that he works as the caretaker for a GRAVEYARD. I remembered this fact mere moments before she reveals herself, in the graveyard, and they (presumably) have sex. In the graveyard. They do the do in the graveyard. Outside. Six feet above dead people. This happens in this movie. I'll give you a moment to consider this.
OK. First of all, if George Costanza has taught us anything, it’s that sex in the workplace is always a bad idea. Second of all, HOW CREEPY IS THAT! I don’t care how hot the girl is, I would categorically never do that. Third of all, this guy SEES DEAD PEOPLE. What if his brother’s just chilling there and he catches sight of him at, ahem, a crucial moment? But such are the sacrifices one must make to do it with a toothy girl in a cemetery. The girl sucks, by the way. On the list of my favorite toothy film stars, she ranks far below the current co-leaders, Anna Paquin and the horse from War Horse.
So they hang out the next day, and he loses track of time and is late to his date with his dead brother. The kid is crying. The ghost is crying, rather. It’s not a kid. It certainly plays catch like an actual kid, but we all know the kid is dead. “I could feel you forgetting me,” he says, reproachfully, and it’s here that everyone, if they haven’t already, begins to question what the message of this movie is. If the movie has any idea what “forgetting” means. There's a middle ground between "leaving town and never thinking about the person again" and "being forced to play catch with his ghost every day." And that's the thing. In actuality, Charlie is chained to this thing. He can never leave town, like a much more annoying George Bailey. (Holy God did I just compare Charlie St. Cloud to George Bailey? I need to stop watching movies like this.)
Sam fears he’ll disappear if Charlie doesn’t keep coming back, which is the kind of threat that you’d only expect to hear from either a crazy ex or a ghost. “I can’t lose Sam,” Charlie says when the girl shows up and figures the whole thing out. “The more I’m in your world, the less I can be in his.” One of those worlds is real, and the other is not. One is full of sexy toothy graveyard sex, and the other... actually sounds more attractive when you put it that way, because graveyard sex is just so incredibly weird.
OK THEN BUT WAIT. Because did all that really happen? We find out that her boat went missing three days ago, when we saw her sailing off into that storm from like twelve paragraphs ago. (So she prepared for an around-the-world sailboat journey by sailing directly into a storm like five minutes from her house, and she wrecked. I’m not necessarily questioning her talent here, as I know nothing about sailing. But it strikes me as a little amateurish. Like tripping over the starting line of a marathon and breaking your ankle.)
And then we see her now, walking around town, but no one can see her and she has no reflection. Was she a
vampire ghost this whole time? Did Zac Efron have sex with a ghost in a
graveyard? Did I just type that sentence?
So Charlie realizes that this is what Ray Cancer Liotta was talking about. (Oh he died, by the way. His wife comes by Charlie’s house with Liotta’s medallion of St. Jude, almost certainly one of Liotta’s most valued possessions, and gives it to Charlie, a kid he’d met twice. It’s almost as if he knew he was in a movie called Charlie St. Cloud.) He knows she’s out there, and the lovely dinner/graveyard sex they had was somehow her way of reaching through the void and making some connection to him so that he’ll go find her when she wrecks her stupid boat. I’m willing to go with it at this point, so long as they wrap this up already.
He gathers up a few one-dimensional supporting characters and goes off searching for her. But it’s a long trip, so he’ll have to miss playing catch with his dead brother! Sam, who is just the most awful annoying kid ever, I know he’s dead, I’m sorry, but oh my God how could anyone stand this kid, anyway Sam finally does something helpful. Understanding that he has to let his brother go, and being a ghost and all that, he transforms into a bright shooting star that guides our hero right to where the girl is. You know, like what happened in the Bible with the Three Wise Men, but if the baby Jesus was some toothy biddy.
He saves her, yay. But then since all the good times/graveyard sex they had together wasn’t real, she’s all reluctant. She says she’s been having vivid dreams about him, which he explains are actually ghost memories that she’s getting after the fact. Like how Yahoo emails you the results of your fantasy draft after it’s over. He didn’t say this, but I feel that analogy would have been super-helpful. Anyway he quotes something that she said to him in the "dream" and she realizes they were MFEO and that ghost memories are totally a thing.
He goes into the clearing one more time to talk to Sam. “Sorry I had to break our deal,” he says. They spout off a lot of hooey about always being brothers, and as the music swells, Charlie says, “I promise.” The end.
How I felt after the movie ended: Couldn’t they have just had that conversation five years ago? Like, what every other person who grieves does? (Except not out loud, because real people can’t talk to ghosts.) Just keep the person in your heart. Think of all the great times you guys had. Allow yourself to pursue relationships with toothy non-ghosts. It would’ve saved Charlie a whole lot of trouble. And it would have saved you a whole lot of time reading this.