It turns out that having a sinus infection is worse than you for drinking, so I slept all last week and Thirsty Thursday passed me by. In return, I present to you a seemingly unrelated double review: Harold and Maude (1971) and Charlie Bartlett (2007). “Now, what the hell could these two movies have in common,” asks the movie-viewer who’s never seen either. It turns out they have a lot in common, and I’m going to prove it to you over a bottle of organic wine.
“This Cabernet Sauvignon with a deep ruby red color displays berry and chocolate aromas. Well balanced in the mouth, it will delight you with its round and sweet tannins. Excellent as a compliment to red and white meats and spicy food.” If I could, I would have found a wine local to Virginia, which I’m pretty sure is where the film takes place. Alas, you all are stuck with a 2010 Cabernet Sauvingnon from Chile.
Plot — Harold and Maude: A young, rich (fatherless?) boy hasn’t done much with his life and is obsessed with death. He goes to funerals and fakes suicide for fun and drives around in his own hearse. His mother tries pushing him into the army or into getting married, but he instead meets and immediately befriends a wacky, free-spirited 79-year-old woman named Maude.
Plot — Charlie Bartlett: A young, rich boy whose father is in jail is expelled from private school after private school because of his acceptedly immoral ways of trying to be popular and well-liked. It’s not until he ends up at public school that he learns that what matters more than popularity in high school is what you do with that popularity.
I believe it was Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Since I’ve decided to sample the wine while writing the review this time, I’ll start off with describing that before I become oblivious to its taste. It is, in fact, very smooth. I ate with it palak paneer and a homemade coconut/red curry couscous, and I must say they paired rather nicely. Even at room temperature, the wine feels cool to taste. The chocolate notes are very subtle, and neither overpower nor contrast curry. Just in case you needed food to pair with your alcohol to pair with your movies.
But on with the review. Why review these two movies together? I happened to watch Charlie Bartlett in theaters for the first time just a month or so after seeing Harold and Maude. It turns out, there are a lot of similarities, but they are all subtle. Let’s start with the setup. Both Harold and Charlie are high school-aged, come from a wealthy family, and have absent father figures in their lives. Both protagonists are also charming as hell, in an awkward teen sort of way. Bud Cort (Harold) is awkward in a creepy way; he almost always whispers and he’s tall, pale, and gangly. Anton Yelchin (Charlie) is awkward in more of a nerdy way. He tries to fit in, whereas Harold doesn’t bother trying, and fails.
Now, I sought an “organic wine” because Maude used it as an excuse to let a teenager drink alcohol. When I went to the local liquor store, I learned a lot about organic wines. Primarily, that there are two types. To most people, organic wine means it was made with organic grapes. There’s another interpretation though — that it contains no sulfites. When wine bottles say “Contains Sulfites,” they’re referring to sulfur dioxide. This is a preservative often added to wine, but it is also a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation. I’ve never had a wine without sulfites before, although I’ve heard it tastes like grape juice. Not quite my cup of tea. At the liquor store, I had a choice between a South African wine without sulfites, and about 20 different bottles of wine made with organic grapes (most were local to Massachusetts).
There’s one scene in particular that occurs in both films, and it was this scene that tipped
me off into thinking one might be inspired by the other. Cat Stevens does all of the music in Harold and Maude. His song, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” appears twice in Charlie Bartlett. While that much of the music is in common, there’s one scene that sticks out. The protagonist and his lady of choice are sitting together at a piano and singing that song.
All of the actors in these movies are pretty damn charming. In Harold and Maude, we have Harold played by Bud Cort, and Maude played by Ruth Gordon. In Charlie Bartlett, we have Charlie played by Anton Yelchin, Susan Gardner played by Kat Dennings(!), and her father, Principal Gardner played by Robert Downey Jr.(!!) Maude and Susan or both manic pixie dream girls of sorts. Maude breaks the stereotype because she’s 79 years old and innocently charms her way out of any trouble she may get into. She’s a free-spirited woman who loves life, seducing a teenager obsessed with death using her elderly allure. Creepy, I know. Susan breaks free of the stereotype by having her own set of problems to deal with. Her father is the principal of her high school and has a drinking problem (doesn’t RDJr always?). Susan gets Charlie to admit to himself that he has problems and does, in fact, need help coming to terms with them. Plus, she’s a much better seductress than Maude.
I’m not quite sure why director Jon Poll chose to use Harold and Maude as inspiration. Harold is a character obsessed with death; he’s very antisocial and fakes suicide every time a potential girlfriend comes along. Charlie, on the other hand, is desperate for attention. He tries to please everyone he meets and all he wants is to be popular. Maybe it’s a post-coming-of-age story about figuring out who you are. After so many faked suicides and expulsions from private schools, you begin to run out of steam and need to settle down into your true self. Definitely an adorable, uplifting duo of films to watch on a cold weekend, perhaps with a bottle of wine.
3 thoughts on “Single-Malt Movies: Harold and Maude and Charlie Bartlett”
Brilliant comparison. I was just watching charlie bartlett for the first time and i got a harold and maude vibe for awhile but had to see if anyone else noticed when i got to the piano scene.
I’ve loved Harold and Maude since I was literally ten years old. I guess I’ve always been a little old for my age. When I saw Charlie Bartlett, I couldn’t believe all the similarities! I think the first one was when Charlie is at the first psychiatrist appointment and he’s lying on the couch upside down. Harold does the same at one of his appointments. 🙂 Then, when Charlie started playing, “If you want to sing out, sing out,” I knew it was purposeful. I absolutely love both movies! Thanks for your review. I was looking for something like this to confirm my suspicions and I found it! 🙂
I loved Harold and Maude so so so so much and I’m glad you’ve made this comparison and recommended this to me. Honestly, i can’t get the film out of my head, I love it so so much and I’ve been searching endlessly for a film even remotely similar to it. Even though I’m only 15, I hope to watch as many cult classics and beautiful films such as Harold and Maude, but in the meantime, I will definitely check out Charlie Bartlett, thank you for this review!! xx