EFRON SAILS THROUGH NEW ROLE

I’ve had an ongoing love affair with the ocean for as long as I can remember. Therefore, I usually enjoy any film set near a large body of water. It doesn’t really make any difference whether or not the movie is any good as long as the sun and the sand and the sea are prominently displayed throughout it.

“Charlie St. Cloud” starring Zac Efron sailed into theaters nationwide last weekend, and although there’s nothing particularly original about its major premise and its plot offers few surprises, I had no trouble sitting through it because it contains scenes filled with copious shots of water and boats. The film is based upon the Ben Sherwood book titled “The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud,” and it tells story of the loving relationship between two brothers.

Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a senior in high school and captain of the sailing team. As the film opens, Charlie and his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), have once again proved their superiority in sailing by winning a race on the waters near their fictional hometown of Quincy in the Pacific Northwest. The two brothers live with their single mother, Claire (Academy Award winner Kim Basinger), and they are a very close family. Sam idolizes his big brother who has earned a scholarship to Stanford, and he already is dreading the day when Charlie will go off to college.

But a horrifying car accident leaves Charlie and Sam near death. Charlie survives. Sam does not. However, Charlie makes a vow that he will never leave his brother. During Sam’s funeral, the bereaved Charlie runs into the woods where he encounters Sam’s spirit caught between the land of living and the dead ala Patrick Swayze’s character in “Ghost.” At this point Charlie promises Sam that he will meet him in the same spot every evening at dusk so that the two of them can have a game of catch.

Five years later we find Charlie working as the caretaker in Seaside Cemetery, the location of Sam’s burial. He never went to college, but throughout the years he has faithfully met Sam in woods every evening. And then Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), one of Charlie’s high school classmates, returns home and announces that she is planning to sail around the world. As Charlie becomes reacquainted with Tess, she awakens strong feelings in him, and he begins to wonder whether he might finally be able to let go of Sam.

Yes this plot has been done before. I call it the benevolent ghost movie, and four of them immediately come to mind: “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), “Field of Dreams” (1989), “Ghost” (1990), and “To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday” (1996). All of these films, like this one, deal with the pleasant aspects of the supernatural.

Now “Charlie St. Cloud” is the kind of film that many critics love to bash because it is not particularly deep, and it tends to be overly sentimental. However, I think films like this carry with them an important message of how human beings somehow find the courage to ultimately move on in the wake of overwhelming tragedy. And this is exactly what Charlie does.

The role of Charlie was real change of pace for Efron, who probably is best known for playing Troy Bolton in the “High School Musical” films. I thought Efron handled this type of part well because he succeeded in making me share his anguish over his brother’s death. In the film’s production notes, Efron explained why he could identify with the character of Charlie and why the role excited him.

“There was a familiarity, a lot that I could relate to and a lot that I recognized in Charlie. It reminded me of the way I connect to my younger brother. I thought Charlie’s relationship with Sam was real and honest, and I admired the qualities that I saw in him. I thought they were very heroic. It was interesting to step into Charlie’s shoes and play a guy who’s down on his luck, who feels numb and doesn’t think he has much to live for. I tend to play characters who are more energetic, full of life, and dance a lot. But Charlie is very different. The role was a 180-degree change, and that was extremely exciting.”

Crew also was effective in the part of Tess, and she had a nice chemistry with Efron, which helped make the film work as well as it did. And Tahan turns in a winning performance as Sam.

But for me the real stars of the film were not human beings. They were the scenery and the music. Although Sherwood’s book is set in Marblehead, Mass., the movie was filmed in Vancouver, British Colombia, and nearby areas. Charlie’s hometown of Quincy is a composite of Friday Harbor, Gibsons, Steveston, and Deep Cove, four of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. When you add to these gorgeous locations an absolutely stunning musical score by Rolfe Kent (“Failure to Launch”), you have a cinematic feast.

“Charlie St. Cloud” (Give it a seven.) is an enjoyable coming-of-age movie that offers nice family entertainment and a solid message about living life to its fullest. I enjoyed it, and I don’t even believe in ghosts.

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