One of the most haunting questions clouding my thoughts when my father died nine years ago was “where is he now, really?” Despite what I knew of religion, what my minister preached on Sundays, and what the eagle-imbued condolence cards said in sympathy, I couldn’t find comfort with the ambiguity of it all; with the uncertainty or finality. I wanted a concrete answer. I wanted to know where he was and wherever it was, I wanted to be there with him.
As I sat in the screening room for NBC Universal’s latest motion picture, Charlie St. Cloud, I watched that same sense of loss and uncertainty unfold before me in a visually stunning, bravely depicted narrative of a subject highly stifled in this country, particularly in mainstream media—grief. Amidst the swooping crane shots over a remote northwest harbor town and dramatic near-miss nautical escapades, is a gentle, heart-warming story of love, loss and redemption. With Zac Efron, the dreamy teen icon turned handsome Hollywood leading man, at the helm, Charlie St. Cloud takes movie-goers on a picturesque yet periodically painful journey of overcoming the loss of a loved one, through intense introspection and true love.
Based on the book, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood, this movie uses beautiful scenery, including but not exclusive to Zac’s abs, stunning cinematography, thought-provoking subject matter, and an unexpected plot twist to be the sentimental yet memorable movie it is.
Zac plays the title role, Charlie, an adventuresome, young yachtsman with his freshman year at Stanford a few weeks away and lofty dreams of sailing around the world on his horizon. Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, those dreams drown rapidly as his adorable brother Sam, played by Charlie Tahan who you will undoubtedly fall in love with, meets his untimely demise (it’s in the trailer people, I’m not spoiling anything).
From there the movie becomes a brotherly fusion of Ghost and Field of Dreams, as Charlie and the apparition of Sam meet every day at the same time, in the same place, to play baseball. Meanwhile, Charlie foregoes his scholarship to Stanford and takes a job at the local graveyard, so he can watch over his brother, and in effect, know where he is.
As the baseballs fly between the two brothers, so does time, and Charlie loses his flare for living real life. His boat rusts in the shed, as do his dreams of becoming the successful yachtsman he was destined to become. In a fairly predictable turn of fate, Charlie meets Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew) a former classmate who is now a beautiful, sprightly yachtswoman on the eve of an unprecedented sail around the world.
Side Bar: Not only is Amanda Crew the doppelganger to Molly Ringwald, a la Pretty in Pink, she is certainly an ingénue to be reckoned with (a sentiment solidified after I met her at the press junket—more on that later this week).
Charlie and Tess embark on a steamy romance, culminating with a provocative, yet still PG-13 love scene in the graveyard where both his brother and her father are buried. And as Malia of Blissfully Domesitic put it in our press roundtable, “I never knew graveyards could be so sexy.” Amen sister, amen. Their untimely romance takes an unpredictable turn and Charlie is faced with the plight of introspection, self-awareness and life altering decision-making.
Throughout the emotional drama and at times, banal dialogue, much needed comic relief appears in the form of Charlie’s hilarious sidekick Alistair, played by Augustus Prew (known for his roles in About a Boy and Dexter) via his pitch perfect, dry-witted humor and his charming British accent.
Side Bar: Every time he spoke I internally quoted A Fish Called Wanda (top 10 best comedies, ever), “Speak it, speak it!”
At times during the film, I caught myself doing the “oh no you di’n’t” roll back, due to some rather contrived conversations between Charlie and Sam, yet somehow their on screen brotherly love ultimately transcended the melodrama and made my mom-at-heart heart strings strum a lovely waltz.
My warning to parents out there who have tweens and teenagers counting down the seconds ‘til release so they can ogle their blue-eyed heartthrob, the subject matter is delicate and much heavier than a fluffy high school musical, and therefore may require some questions and answers both before and after the film. It is a far cry from the light-hearted, jazz-hand-inducing flicks of Zac’s previous repertoire. This is not to sway parents away from sending their kids off for a night at the movies, as I think discussions of death and grief should not be such a taboo. But rather I encourage families to initiate an open dialogue about these subjects, as they are a part of life and should be embraced rather than denied.
I give this movie 3 ½ out 5 heartfelt fist pumps.
Charlie St. Cloud opens July 30th in theaters everywhere. If you haven’t read about my date with Zac, CLICK HERE. I still haven’t showered.
And to catch my Sappy Mom’s Review of Toy Story 3, CLICK HERE.