Film Review: The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is undeniably schmaltzy. This is fine if you are looking for a sentimental film that isn’t too taxing, but not so good if you expect more from your viewing experience.

Charlie and his younger brother Sam are inseparable. When Sam dies in a car accident, Charlie is still able to see his younger brother everyday at the spot they used to hang out. Charlie’s devotion to Sam is tested when a girl comes into his life…

Although it deals with the serious subject of death, Charlie St. Cloud keeps the tone light. Whilst there isn’t a great deal of humour in the film, there also isn’t the sombreness you might expect. The moments of sadness featured are more fleeting than dwelled upon.

At the heart of the film is the rather formidable theme of grief and moving on in life following a death. Given the fantastic nature of Charlie St. Cloud, however, this message is sometimes treated rather whimsically. The film cuts straight from Charlie finding out his brother has died in the car accident to Sam’s funeral. By not exhibiting Charlie’s initial shock and grief at his brother’s death, it lessens the impact of their first meeting. This should be a moment of great effect for Charlie, but it does not carry the force it should.

It is not difficult to feel empathy for the character of Charlie to begin with. It is also understandable why he has put his life on hold to retain the bond with his sibling. Where the character jars is in his relationship with his love interest Tess. At first he comes across as social awkward, in keeping with the fact that he does not spend much time in the company of others. Nevertheless, on their date he becomes instantly comfortable with romancing her; quite a contrast with his behaviour only a scene previously. Thus, here lies the fundamental flaw of Charlie St. Cloud; it does not allow the central character the time to appropriately develop, so lacks authenticity.

Zac Efron does a decent job as protagonist Charlie. His prettiness does detract somewhat in moments of anguish, however. Whilst his looks have undoubtedly helped him in the past, they may hinder Efron from gaining grittier roles. Augustus Prew brings some much needed humour to proceedings as Charlie’s friend Alastair. Charlie St. Cloud is beautifully shot, with director Burr Steers making the most of the picturesque location.

Unless you have a penchant for the saccharine, Charlie St. Cloud shouldn’t be high on your viewing agenda. Avid Efron fans, however, will surely check it out.

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