The romantic fantasy Charlie St. Cloud takes place in a seaside town where it’s always magic hour, and the movie itself appears entirely caressed in the warm, beatific glow of sunset after sunset after sunset. It makes for a pleasant enough experience—all the better for bringing out the radiant tropical blues of Zac Efron’s eyes—but it’s narcotizing, too, because the drama, spare under any circumstances, gets glossed over in kind. Much as its half-tragic/half-whimsical story suggests themes about grief, loss, and the meaning of life, the film is memorable mainly for attractive people sailing and smooching against an attractive backdrop. There’s no urgency behind all the preening.
Based on Ben Sherwood’s novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud, the film stars Efron as a sailing prodigy from the humble side of town, where he lives with his overworked single mother (Kim Basinger) and a little brother, played by Charlie Tahan, who idolizes him. Efron is set to enroll at Stanford in the fall, but his plans short-circuit when he gets into a car accident and his brother is killed. But he can see dead people: Tahan reappears to him in a forest clearing, and Efron spends the next five years meeting his brother there at the same time every day. Needless to say, Efron gets a reputation in town as a bit of an eccentric, but that isn’t enough to deter Amanda Crew, a lovely sailing enthusiast who tries to bring him out into the wider world.
It’s clear from the premise where Charlie St. Cloud is heading, and if that wasn’t enough, the film’s tagline (“Life is for living”) underlines it twice for good measure. The film toys with the notion of whether Efron is really communicating with a ghost, or his brother is just a manifestation of guilt and grief, but the relationship between the two doesn’t seem to have evolved much over five years. Either they play ball together, or Tahan whines about his brother losing interest in him. Efron and Crew have better chemistry together, but even then, it’s mostly because they seem like two friendly, good-looking people who’d make sense sailing the globe together. Bon voyage!