Fight Club! John Ritter’s Kid Throws Punches While Squid and the Whale Boy Watches

c sarriseducation Fight Club! John Ritter’s Kid Throws Punches While Squid and the Whale Boy Watches

The Education of
Charlie Banks

Running Time 100 minutes
Written by Peter Elkoff

Directed by Fred Durst
Starring  Jesse Eisenberg,
Jason Ritter, Eva Amurri

Fred Durst’s The Education of Charlie Banks, from a screenplay by Peter Elkoff, marks Mr. Durst’s feature film directorial debut after a successful career in the music business as an executive, and as the frontman for the platinum selling group Limp Bizkit, which has sold over 35 million albums worldwide. As is to be expected, Mr. Durst’s soundtrack is inundated with a score of musical mood pieces, though the movie is in no way a musical. Charlie Banks won the Made in New York Narrative Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, though most of the film was shot on the campus of Brown University in Providence, R.I. Still, its early sequences were filmed in and around Lower Manhattan.

We first see the ultimate protagonists, Charlie and Mick, in childhood, a period in which rich-kid Charlie (Steven Hinkle) becomes fascinated by the fistfighting prowess and overall self-confidence of poor boy Mick (Miles Chandler) in neighborhood brawls. This fascination is renewed unexpectedly when the grown-up Charlie (Jesse Eisenberg, from The Squid and the Whale) has matriculated at an upscale Ivy League college, and the decidedly un-matriculated Mick (Jason Ritter) bursts into his dorm room one day, apparently at the invitation of Charlie’s roommate, Danny (Chris Marquette). The personable Mick quickly insinuates himself into Charlie’s academic and social life, showing a special interest in Charlie’s girlfriend, Mary (Eva Amurri), to the point of seducing the not unwilling Brown co-ed. Charlie can only stand by hopelessly as Mick becomes King of the Campus without any of the financial advantages of the other students.

Normally, this would make Mick a sympathetic underdog figure in the currently popular male-bonding genres. But here Charlie Banks diverges from the buddy-buddy movie norms by making its hitherto marginal female characters, Mary and Nia (Gloria Votsis), the moral arbiters in the final dethroning of Mick, after he beats up one of their classmates, an admittedly super-rich and unethical campus playboy, Leo (Sebastian Stan). It was not so much the beating itself that shocked the co-eds, but its out-of-control ferocity.

When Mick starts bullying Charlie’s former girlfriend, Charlie decides that he’s had enough. What happens next produces an ending of mixed feelings and painfully acquired wisdom on Charlie’s part. But Mr. Durst and Mr. Elkoff have made their point, and it is a fresh one in the ongoing cinematic search for a plausible world far more complex than most movies are willing to recognise.

In short, how many movies are there in which the audience’s sympathy is made to shift from the poor boy to the rich boy? I can’t think of any. Hence, I fully recommend The Education of Charlie Banks to anyone looking for something truly and subtly different.

asarris@observer.com