The Education of Charlie Banks

Who knew that Fred Durst could direct? I most certainly didn’t.

The Education of Charlie Banks is Fred Durst’s feature film debut as a director and, believe it or not, it’s a-ok. It’s not one of those deeply moving stories, but it’s not a lame excuse for a coming-of-age tale, either. It falls somewhere in between, in that maybe-I’ll-watch-it-someday dead space. I decided to make “someday” into yesterday.

The main draw for me was, of course, Jesse Eisenberg. He is one half of my current celebrity crush one-two punch and, as it turns out, a fantastic actor. In most of his roles, he’s the same neurotic, introverted dork, but in Charlie Banks he is the title character, an intellectual and a passive romantic, sure, but one that speaks his mind more often than you’d think. He’s an observer of sorts, and one with very deep, promising intuitions about people. And the story revolves around him, his best friend, and their relationship with a curious, intriguing bully from grade school who comes back into their lives in college.

Said bully is played by Jason Ritter, who I had viewed as the perpetual nice-guy-next-door until I saw him bust out his best Vinnie Barbarino impression and knock a few guys out with his fists of fury. Holy shit, Jason Ritter is a good actor!

Throughout the course of the movie, we see Ritter’s character, Mick, do a bunch of physical and emotional damage to people, and it’s actually quite taxing as the story wears on—I wondered how Charlie could stand MIck’s constant fight-picking and woman-stealing, and what it was, exactly, that made young Charlie so aware of Mick’s shortcomings before he even knew him that well. The two men shared a complicated acquaintance; Charlie ratted out one of Mick’s many indiscretions to the police when they were younger, and Mick continued to hold a grudge on Charlie, acting as his careful frenemy rather than being overly nice or overly mean.

In the end, you feel sorry for all the characters, for being so emotionally burdened and so inherently screwed up, but you also learn a thing or two about trust. Charlie experienced betrayal from everyone he thought was close to him, including his best friend and the girl of his dreams (Eva Amurri, a.k.a. Susan Sarandon’s mini-me), yet he kept on with his virtuous, admirable life. I’m not sure what about him was appealing in that sense, since ultimately, Charlie was a huge pushover. But Eisenberg always gives his characters a certain likable quality, one that invokes sympathy and likeability even when they’re as morally corrupt as, say, Mark Zuckerberg. In any case, I can’t wait to see what more he accomplishes as an actor.

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