The Education Of Charlie Banks
There are many experiences in life that seem to transcend race, culture and socio-economic backgrounds. Collectively these experiences are frequently referred to as rites of passage since it is nearly impossible to grow up without going through them. For many people one of the most memorable of these experiences is encountering the school yard bully. It is not as if this is just a youthful phase that we pass through and it’s over. Kids that are bullies tend to have the nasty habit of growing up to be adult bullies. Their scope of influence merely broadens out from making school s living hell to creating a workplace that is unbearable. Because of the universal nature of this problem it has traditionally made for reasonably good story telling. This is it is also the type of plot device that is open to a wide variety of genres and interpretations running the gamut from silly as in flicks like ‘Mr., Woodcock’ to deadly serious as demonstrated by the 2001 film by Larry Clark, ‘Bully’. The film under consideration here, ‘The Education of Charlie Banks’, by musician turned Auteur Fred Durst, lies somewhere in between these extremes. The film has its share of faults with a largely predicable story but that said the movie definitely has its charm and possess strong entertainment value. A quick look at the financial details of this film will reveal something about the intent held by the film makers. Even though the budget was a mere $5 million, ridiculously low by studio standards, it was shown on only a handful of screens on the art house circuit. This was made for the love of the art form and even though there are technical faults here the enthusiasm of the cast and crew win out.
The script is the first and so far only feature film screenplay for Peter Elkoff. To date most of his writing has been with series television, one plus here is the shows he has contributed to have been lauded for their stories most notably ‘Ugly Betty’ and ‘Dirty Sexy Money’. This screenplay represents another departure for Elkoff; he chose to set the story in the seventies adding the particular demands of a period piece. While this is an interesting artistic pathway the material was such that the film would have worked as a contemporary tale. All the move to period piece seemed to accomplish was to add a degree of difficulty for both the author and director; both relatively new in their respective careers. This ultimately a rather hackney theme; the standard coming of age story that begins with a strong enough start but becomes derailed towards the middle of the second act. This may be at least due to Elkoff’s TV series background where he was able to reveal the plot points over the course of several episodes instead of being confined to the typical movie length.
One very common contributing cause for bullying behavior is class distinction. In this story the titular protagonist, Charlie Banks (Jesse Eisenberg) is a likable enough sort fellow, bright and friendly by nature. He is on the cusp of adulthood and attending a fictionalized Ivy League university where he finds himself rubbing elbows with the privileged and wealthy. Charlie is initially out of place but soon finds himself gaining acceptance and making friends, he even makes some headway in starting a relationship with the beautiful Mary (Eva Amurri). Of course such smooth sail would not make for much of a story so Charlie gets an unexpected visit from his past; Mick (Jason Ritter). Mick knew Charlie back in the more working class neighborhood of New York City’s East Village. It doesn’t take long before Mick moves in on Charlie’s new circle of friends including, of course, the lovely Mart. Just beneath Mick’s social façade lurks a violent and somewhat disturbed personality. For Charlie Mick was that aspect of childhood that he would rather had left behind. Mick was an almost feral bully who had cemented a bad reputation while still in elementary school. His reappearance in Charlie’s life not only returned him to his childhood role as victim it also highlighted the social distance between Charlie and his new friends.
This film is actually the first directorial work for Fred Durst best known as the heavily tattooed front man for the metal rock group, 'Limp Bizkit'. This movie was released after his second, ‘The Longshots’ , a family oriented flick. If Durst is attempting to make a radical change in the pathway for his career he is succeeding. His music has been described as raw and visceral; term that thus far would not be applicable to his new film career. Strange as it may seem Durst appears to be playing it safe as he develops his directorial style. While he is still very much on the learning curve it is refreshing to see an artist dare to take the professional risk inherent in such a major make over. Bottom line this is an imperfect but well worth while and entertainment.
Audio Commentary With Director Fred Drust And Actor Jason Ritter
Conversations behind The Education Of Charlie Banks