Radio 07.30.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville .
Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) is the kind of guy who looks like the world is his oyster:  he’s handsome, charming, outgoing, and, in a coastal Massachusetts harbor town, a great sailor.  He wins so many local races that he’s actually offered a sailing scholarship (do they even have such things?).  He loves his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) so much that Charlie St. Cloud doesn’t even mind when his single-parent Mom (Kim Basinger) works double shifts; the brothers are best buddies, anyway.  That’s why something deep snaps within Charlie when he’s driving Sam to a friend’s house and a drunk driver plows into the back of them, throwing their car into the incoming lane, where an 18-wheeler smashes into them.
Charlie flatlines in the ambulance.  But somehow he pulls out of it, though his first horrible realization is that his little brother didn’t make it.  The funeral was too much for Charlie.  He runs off into the woods behind the cemetery where he meets:  his little brother, still wearing his Red Sox baseball cap, and wanting to play catch.  Startled, Charlie obliges, and they agree to continue to meet there, at the evening cannon, every day, to play catch.
Of course, nobody else can see what Charlie sees.  But that’s not all of it.  Five years later, though his Mom has moved to Portland (and he doesn’t bother returning her calls), Charlie has decided to stay put, work at the cemetery, and live in the little caretaker’s house nearby, so he can be on time for his everyday session of catch with Sam, who, of course, never changes.  The once-breezy, outgoing, popular Charlie has become a brooding recluse.  His old high school friends have gone off to college, moved away, or otherwise learned to just leave him alone.  Everyone except Tess (Amanda Crew) the girl who’s been collecting sponsorships and holding publicity interviews so she can sail around the world, solo.  Once one of the most promising sailors of his generation, Charlie hasn’t even been back on the water since the accident: too many painful memories of crewing with Sam.  (And yes, we caught that the name of their boat, “Splendid Splinter,” was the nickname for the most famous Red Sox player of them all, Ted Williams.)
            Charlie also finds himself in the cemetery one day talking to one of his old high school buddies still in his Marine uniform, polishing his own headstone.  Yes, he was killed in Afghanistan .  But Charlie, somehow because of his own experience of flatlining, is now able to see the people who are stuck “in between”---that is, they are among the living, still, because they aren’t ready to leave, but nobody can see them anymore---nobody, that is, except Charlie St. Cloud. (We’ll not debate the cosmology, we’ll just accept it as part of the story.)
            The paramedic (Ray Liotta) who revived him in the ambulance assures Charlie that God doesn’t waste opportunities like this; there must be a reason that Charlie was spared.  (We won’t debate that theology, either.)  Charlie, and the rest of us, do find out that reason, but it doesn’t happen in the way we would expect.
            Sure, there’s a lot about death and dying here, handled with much teary tenderness and even flat-out schmaltz.  In parts, it feels as sappy as some Hallmark Hall of Fame hankyfest.  But there’s something winsome about the way Zac Efron, of “High School Musical” fame, portrays this weepy, damaged character, and we want to believe that eventually, he’s going to recover himself, even if it’s not on anybody’s emotional schedule but his own, and long past the time when everybody else says he should be over it.  That part feels real to us:  grief does what it does to each of us, without bothering to follow our expected formulas for it.  And that will preach at anybody’s funeral.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5-KICK FM