Zac Efron attempts to pull off serious actor role

2010 – 99mn – 12A

Directed by Burr Steers. Starring Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta.

Review by Walter Nichols

LIKE many before him, and surely many after him, Zac Efron attempts the jump from teen heartthrob to serious actor. The choice of material in that jump is vital; and Efron has picked The Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud, based on a bestselling weepie. In it, he plays the titular Charlie, who puts plans of university and sailing glory when his young brother dies in a car accident. Charlie – who was at the wheel – is overcome by grief. He takes a job as caretaker of the cemetery his brother is buried in, and even starts seeing him. He spends more and more time with the vision, letting the grief take over – until he meets a girl, Tess (Amanda Crew). Charlie has to decide whether he wants to be with her or with his brother – allegorically, really, choosing between life and death.

There’s something simple, lovely and old-fashioned about the premise, and it calls for a delicate hand to guide it. The filmmakers, sadly, give it to us heavy, obvious, and unrefined. Everything is postcard beautiful, the emotions are shamelessly overplayed, and the religious overtones smacked over your head with glee. The scenes of smooching, like clockwork, cut every few minutes to insipid pop tunes and scenic ocean shots, and no one bothers to really explore the themes of loss and moving on in any but the most superficial fashion.

As a showcase vehicle for Zac Efron, however, the film works relatively well. There’s nothing here to turn off his usual fans, and nothing to validate the sneers of newcomers to him. As in 17 Again, he’s rather good – really good, in fact – even though he’s better at the lighter moments than the heavier ones (unfortunately for this film, he can’t really “do” despair). But he’s good-looking, growing up well, and charismatic. Love interest Amanda Crew is also very good. She hasn’t been in much, but she’s got that brightness stars in the making have. Unlike the film around her, there’s nothing artificial about her charm.