Thoughts on Charly’s 10th Anniversary Re-release

The 10th Anniversary re-release of Jack Weyland’s Charly is out in theaters for a limited time.  (Official site here)

Some quick thoughts after my screening:  (Original review here)

  • Charly is still a good film.  I didn’t like it any more or less after the second viewing.  It does a lot of things right — creating a faithful LDS story while still exploring some of the deeper issues within LDS doctrine and belief (helped, obviously, by having good source material.)
  • There’s only about five minutes of “new” material, none of it significant.  So if you’ve seen Charly already, only see the re-release because you’re genuinely interested in seeing the original again.  Don’t expect a LOTR-style “extended cut” that will fundamentally change the film experience.
  • The new scenes were all apparently filmed last year (not deleted scenes filmed at the time that weren’t included in the original cut).  The age differences of the actors are hard to disguise (strangely, Heather Beers looks ten years older than she did ten years ago.  Go figure.)  Since the new scenes don’t take up a lot of time, the continuity impact is minimal.
  • The Charly re-release is sponsored by the West Ridge Academy, and in case you forget, the West Ridge Academy is name-dropped within the film in re-recorded voice-over.  Not quite as blatant as the featuring of Tahitian Noni in the Tahitian Noni-sponsored 2004 Johnny Lingo movie, but still a little awkward.
  • Charly was filmed in 2001 — not ancient history by any means, but it’s amusing to look at the “cutting edge” technology in the film from a 2012 perspective:  Sam’s monster-sized PDA (in place of a smart phone today) and the video-conference setup for Charly to talk to her ex-boyfriend over the Internet — presented as “Video chatting online!  Look how cool this is!” in the film but amusingly ubiquitous today.
Some additional analysis and comments (possible spoilers):

In my original review, I commented that Charly’s conversion to Mormonism doesn’t get much exploration.  Most of the new scenes flesh out this element of the film, including the only extended new scene — Charly visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lingering emotionally on a Carl Bloch exhibit of art featuring the life of the Savior.  I’m glad the filmmakers recognized an area that needed more emphasis, although there are still some obvious questions.  We see Charly reading the Bible, pondering the life of the Savior, and telling Sam she’s read the Book of Mormon and felt good about it, but the only element of her testimony she witnesses to later in the film is about eternal marriage and families — an element of LDS doctrine ironically not found in the Bible or Book of Mormon.  The “blank slate” idea that plays into the narrative is a solid idea, although Charly’s personality suggests someone who generally lives her life without regrets.  What part of the “blank slate” idea appeals to her the most?  What part of her history would she like to ‘do over’?   (Obviously, her answer appears to be different than Sam’s answer.)  In the end, Charly’s conversion still feels incomplete, but a good effort in trying to expand upon it.

Someone will need to explain everything Charly’s dad does in the film.  He deliberately arranges for Sam (a Mormon guy) to meet Charly in the hopes that he’ll distract her from Mark, her former boyfriend…then when he does, her dad calls Mark and says “come quick, she’s dating a guy worse than you!”   Worse for no other stated or apparent reason than Sam is Mormon…which Charly’s dad already knew when he set them up. (?)  Why doesn’t her dad like Mark in the first place?  The only thing he says is an oblique comment about Charly’s previous boyfriends being “afraid of commitment”…which obviously applies to Mark because he only spends the entire film trying to get Charly to marry him.  (??)

One of Charly’s strengths are complex and well-drawn characters.  The character of Sam is different than the common “faithful LDS male” seen in many LDS films, who is usually the same at the beginning of the film as the end.  (See:  The Other Side of Heaven, One Good Man)  Sam actually has a character arc — where his outlook on life and spirituality when the film opens is challenged immediately and continually throughout the film until he’s forced to question exactly who he is and what he believes.  (“What good is faith if it’s just for Bible stories and sacrament talks?” he asks, an excellent question that most faithful LDS will have to face for themselves at some point.)  He’s genuinely in a different place spiritually and emotionally at the end of the movie.  Perhaps I didn’t give Jeremy Hoop (Jeremy Elliot) enough credit originally for bringing Sam to life, even if he’s still overshadowed by his co-star.

Having said all that…why is Sam a good match for Charly?   How does he complement her, someone who believes “life is for laughing”?  Sam is aloof and self-righteous when they meet, he’s callous and judgmental when he learns of her previous relationships, and even after they are married does everything in his power to make the tragedy of her cancer all about *him* instead.  In general, he’s naive and sheltered while pretending to be knowledgeable and mature — claiming to “know” things about life that (later in the film) are exposed as very shaky.  (Charly’s dad may actually have a point about preferring Mark over Sam…if the film had included any of the above in their interactions together.)   Even Charly’s direct admission of why she loves him at the end of the film (“your boundless optimism and simple faith”) rings false, because the former has been exposed in the film as a psychological defense created out of fear, and the latter to be a sham.

So why are they together, other than “the script says so”?   The only reason seems to be because…he’s LDS, and so is she, and that’s the only way to achieve her goal of eternal marriage.  Did Charly not meet even one other LDS guy in either New York or Utah?  After Charly and Sam (justifiably) break up in the middle, and she realizes she’s changed to the extent that getting back with Mark isn’t an option either…why not explore what other LDS men are around?  It would only take meeting one or two to discern that better potential matches than Sam existed, while still possessing that all-important temple recommend.

Obviously your mileage may vary, but as much as I like Sam and Charly as complex literary characters, the film still didn’t sell me on their relationship.  Sam ends up with Charly by default.   It’s telling that the scenes where Charly dismisses Sam after he’s offended her and he tries to make up ring truer than the scene where she takes him back.  What does he have to offer to her that would convince her to look past all the other relationship baggage?  The fact that Charly is still one of my favorite LDS films despite not accepting the very premise behind it shows just how many things the film does right.

Final Grade:  B      Still.  Convince me why Charly would really fall in love with Sam and I’ll go for a B+