Every "Cloud" has a silver lining

Aug. 1, 2010, 8:13 p.m. | By Sarah Harper | 13 years, 4 months ago

Despite choppy editing, "Charlie St. Cloud" shines

"Charlie St. Cloud," directed by Burr Steers ("17 Again," "Weeds"), delivers an emotionally charged story about life, death and everything in between. Based closely on the acclaimed novel "The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud," the film is a blend of romance and drama, with a touch of the supernatural. The film makes for an enjoyable watch on a Sunday afternoon, but is ultimately confusing and predictable, due to poor editing and mediocre cinematography.

Set in a sleepy seaside town, the film begins with Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron), a young man with a bright future and a talent for sailing. During his last summer before college, he promises to teach baseball to his younger brother, Sam St. Cloud (Charlie Tahan). Tragedy strikes when the brothers are involved in a car accident and Sam dies. At the funeral, Charlie discovers he can see Sam's ghost and swears never to leave his little brother. Five years later, the brothers still meet for baseball practice every night. But Charlie's commitment to Sam is tested when his high school classmate Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew) returns and Charlie is torn between the past and present. As he falls in love with Tess, Charlie must learn to let go and find the life he lost.

Efron has stepped away from his "pretty boy" image in taking on this darker, more complex character. Though the romance between Tess and Charlie will certainly appeal to Efron's fanbase of teenage girls, the film is not a simple love story. Efron has stretched his acting range, making the inaccessible and tormented Charlie into a believable – and at times, humorous – character. This is an especially impressive feat, as Charlie is an unreliable narrator; the audience is never quite sure if certain incidents, as seen through Charlie's eyes, are real or imagined.

Another standout is newcomer Tahan, who portrays the innocent and endearing Sam. Audiences will find it difficult to be angry with the boy, or blame him for isolating Charlie from the world. Tahan's performance holds such an honesty and warmth that when Sam's ghost admits he never had a first kiss, it's impossible not to feel a tug on your heartstrings.

As a result, the relationship between the brothers comes off as natural, thanks in part to a realistic script. Efron and Tahan shine together, particularly during the car ride leading to Sam's death and a later scene of "mud-sliding" – a game that the two made up. Sam is filled with smart remarks, just like a loveable yet annoying little brother. Charlie is a protective older brother that isn't afraid to play-wrestle with and rag on Sam. The only point where the screenplay feels forced is when Tess and Charlie are together. Crew and Efron lack chemistry, and frequently resort to "meaningful" stares and constant embracing.

"Charlie St. Cloud" has a vibrant Technicolor look that subtly enhances the dreamlike feel of the film. Steers takes full advantage of the natural setting, capturing the surreal beauty of the sea and forest surrounding the town. But the cinematography is almost too perfect and at times resembles a Hallmark card. Camera shots and angles are uncreative and the lighting varies from blindingly bright to shadowy darkness. Filler scenes of Efron staring deeply into the sunset are used continually to transition the film, while the dramatic score tends to overpower the action.

But all of these flaws are manageable, if only slightly distracting, when faced with the overall editing job. Although the premise is compelling, "Charlie St. Cloud" is pieced together roughly and the climax falls flat. Memories and realizations are thrown out randomly, and the audience will have trouble following along with Charlie's internal struggle and eventual discovery.

That's not to say the film isn't worth a watch. Viewers will quickly become invested in the main characters and the storyline doesn't drag. As a whole, "Charlie St. Cloud" presents a fresh take on living a full life and finding the things we've lost in the most unexpected places.

Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality. The movie runs for 109 minutes and is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Sarah Harper. Sarah Harper loves blackberry pie, beach trips and Pushing Daisies. More »

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