Matthew Modine in Flowers for Algernon (2000)

Charlie's Gene-Ass

As a mentally challenged young man Charlie (Matthew Modine) was popular with his colleagues at the bakery where he helped out moving stuff around although he never realised that often he was the butt of their jokes. But then Charlie gets picked for an experimental operation to try and correct the wiring in his brain and after a slow start Charlie soon begins learning new things at a rate of knots. As Charlie becomes smarter, smarter than Dr. Jonah Strauss (Ron Rifkin) who pioneered the operation as well as Alice (Kelli Williams) his special needs teacher life becomes complicated. Not only do those he work with dislike the new super intelligent Charlie but Charlie starts to have feelings for Alice whilst it seems the change may not be a permanent one.

If out of the blue my numbers came up on the lottery tonight and I became an over night millionaire I am sure my life would change. After years of wanting to be rich I would all of sudden be just that with the funds to generate more money by doing nothing. People would treat me differently as I doubt I would be the old me and those who enjoyed knowing that they were richer than me start struggling to deal with the fact I was now richer than them. You might be wondering why I am talking about winning the lottery when "Flowers for Algernon" has nothing to do with winning money but they share some similarities as we see how life changes for Charlie when he is no longer mentally challenged and how it isn't great.

Kelli Williams in Flowers for Algernon (2000)

The thing is that whilst this look at the new life for Charlie is entertaining it isn't anything new as other movies have looked at how people treat someone once they change or become rich. But then "Flowers for Algernon" takes things another step as Charlie discovers the fix is only a temporary one and he has so long to use his new found super intelligence before he regresses to being mentally challenged again. And so we have the question of whether Charlie will find a cure or gain some greater insight into what is more important to him. I won't say what the outcome is but I will say it keeps you watching which is just as important.

Now what I will say is that "Flowers for Algernon" is not a movie of subtleties and Matthew Modine's performance as Charlie is full on throughout the movie. In the early scenes where he is playing Charlie as mentally handicapped he borders on the laughing at himself cliche who thinks when people are laughing at him it is okay. But the switch too super intelligent almost brings out a monster in him as he lords it over others who are not as smart at him and to be honest it is too much. Yet it is an entertaining performance and one which is incredibly touching when he shares scenes with Algernon the mouse, never has an actor worked so well with a mouse before.

What this all boils down to is that "Flowers for Algernon" is certainly an entertaining movie with a decent storyline and enjoyable performances. But I just get a sense that maybe there was a greater movie to be made from what seems a great story.