Accomplished young sailor Charlie St. Cloud has the world at his feet. A college scholarship to steer him far away from the limitations of life in his Pacific Northwest hometown, a little brother who idolises him and a talent that will take him around the globe.
But a sudden, tragic, wind-change throws Charlie’s life off course and a flippant promise lightly made becomes a binding vow. When love and hope finally cross Charlie’s path he faces an impossible choice:
To live forever in the past or to take a leap of faith into the future and risk losing the only family he has left.
We should start by saying that I am probably not the target demographic for The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. I am old and cynical and immune to the hypnotic appeal of Mr Efron’s sad puppy/eager puppy countenance. There is a line I have always loved in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up your heart dies.” I’m afraid Emo Queen Allison spoke the sad, sad, truth and my reaction to the angst and anguish of Charlie sadly demonstrates that mine has long expired.
Based on Ben Sherwood’s bestselling novel, Charlie St. Cloud opens promisingly enough with a dynamic boat race that is breathtakingly executed and shot. An emotional payoff to a spur of the moment decision is also captured well in a dramatic moonlit crash. Kim Basinger, Donal Logue and Ray Liotta give good, if sparse, support throughout and Liotta’s presence shows due deference to the wonderful Field of Dreams – a film to which Charlie St. Cloud owes a debt of gratitude.
Charlie Tahan, as little brother Sam, displays maturity in the complex demands of his role and avoids being child-star-cute. Unfortunately the bulk of the storytelling burden lies on Zac Efron’s burnished shoulders and here the strain begins to show.
Having cut his baby teeth on the High School Musical franchise, Zac Efron established himself as a bona fide rising star with box office smash 17 Again – his first collaboration with Charlie St. Cloud director Burr Steers. His undeniable talent for dance and his clean cut charisma proved cinema gold when Mike O’Donnell made the Big jump back to high school and Efron was officially stamped one to watch.
Again in Charlie St. Cloud he rises to the film’s physical challenges with aplomb – demonstrating accomplishment and polish in sailing sequences and showing off his trademark twinkle toes in a cleverly choreographed waterslide scene. He has proven himself to be more than a one trick pony but he is a show pony nonetheless and, to the film’s detriment, far less accomplished when grasping for emotional depth.
Where Charlie’s narrative demands doubt, sorrow or frustration we are offered wistful profile shots in lieu. Though beautifully composed and artfully coloured, these postcard perfect watercolours are no substitute for the true art of performance. The simple line drawing that is Efron’s Charlie St. Cloud does not suit such a technicoloured dreamcoat and eventually the pained fluttering of his expertly curled lashes had my toes curling in unison. The spiritual undertone of the story was drowned under a fondue of cloying sentimentality and the bittersweet twist was facepalm-predictable.
This film wasn’t made for me and I know Zac’s legion fans will pay their pocket money over gladly for a chance to weep over his (well) hidden depths. They will find a perfectly competent sob story about the grieving process and the redemptive power of love. They will swoon at the selflessness of Charlie’s great sacrifice and sigh great gusting exhalations of “If it were only me!” when he finds true love at last.
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is a sweetly magical movie – as pretty as Mr Efron’s big baby blues. A teenaged Ghost story, that will neatly polarise audiences by age and the depth of their cynicism, it is sure to go on to become a date night classic. If you believe in magic then pop a pack of tissues in with your popcorn and don’t forget to wear waterproof mascara!
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud opens on Friday 8th October across the UK