Jon Poll isn’t exactly the prototypical first-time film director. At the age of 49, he makes his directorial debut with “Charlie Bartlett,” a teen comedy that hopes to resurrect the glory of 1980s teen films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“I’m not exactly wet behind my ears, straight out of film school,” he said in an interview with the Eagle.
Indeed, Poll is no stranger to Hollywood. He spent over two decades working steadily as a lead editor on such films as “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Meet the Parents.” But serving as an executive producer for “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and watching director Judd Apatow on the set motivated Poll to make the leap into the director’s chair.
“I started to look for a movie to direct,” he said. “I read 100 scripts before I found a film I wanted to make, and there were two scripts that I found that I loved: ‘Charlie Bartlett’ and ‘Juno,’ ironically.”
Ultimately, he settled on “Charlie Bartlett,” a film centering on a high school student who acted as psychiatrist to his peers, even going so far as to “prescribe” medications. Poll was particularly drawn to making a teen film.
“I have a teenage daughter, and I still vividly remember being a teenager,” he said. “I think ultimately we all remember those times.”
In his eyes, there was something original about the voice with which “Charlie” was written. According to Poll, writer Gustin Nash devised the script after overhearing some teenagers “talking about how there weren’t any teen films that felt authentic to them.”
While focusing on the presentation of an “authentic teen voice,” Poll kept his 14-year-old daughter in mind.
“I felt like I was making a movie for her and her friends that I hoped they would be entertained by and find something interesting in to take home and think about,” he said.
The film raises many issues relevant to teenagers today, such as the effects of single parent environments and, most overtly, the careless prescribing of drugs to children. Though he is adamant that “Charlie” is “not a message film,” Poll makes clear an important question the film raises: “[Is it] better to take the time to listen to a kid than just prescribe him a drug?”
Clearly, the title character is the vice through which the filmmakers answered the question.
“People found it easy to talk to him,” Poll said of the Charlie character. “He was able to listen to them and not give advice telling them what to do but helping them find what was comfortable to them.”
When anxious teenagers have asked for his advice, Poll responds by drawing inspiration from his film’s main character.
“Find a way to do it and believe in yourself,” he said. “I think that’s part of the optimism Charlie tries to express to people ... take a deep breath and don’t be scared - life is meant to be lived.”