Flowers for Algernon

Year: 2000
Production Co: Alliance Atlantis Communications
Studio: CBS
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Writer: John Pielmeier
Cast: Matthew Modine, Kelli Williams, Ron Rifkin

I assume I had this movie on my list because the idea of an operation on the brain that turns the mentally handicapped into not just mentally abled people but geniuses was called 'sci-fi' in the description, but that's all the sci-fi you'll find in this extremely made for TV flick.

It also felt like Matthew Modine's last gasp as a lead after he headlined movies like Memphis Belle and Full Metal Jacket back in the day, long before his career was resurrected by being a sometime second billing in Chris Nolan films and the human villain of the Stranger Things universe.

So despite him working almost constantly throughout his 40-plus year career, he'd lost a lot of his mojo by the late 90s and this TV movie was probably all he could get.

And if you didn't know it was a TV movie before you turned it on, you'd realise inside two minutes. It's not just the content and tone, it's the technical aesthetic, all of it looking exactly like one of those disease/social-issues-of the-week films that were rife back in the heyday of network TV.

Modine plays Charlie, a mentally handicapped man functional enough to live by himself and hold down a job as the dog's body at an industrial bakery, but with the outlook of an irrepressible and enthusiastic child who's friends with everybody, from his therapist to the pretty teacher Alice (Kelli Williams) who teaches he and a group of other disabled adults.

When an eminent scientist (Ron Rifkin) comes calling with an experimental surgery that promises to bring Charlie to a full mentally competent adulthood, he's all for it, hopeful it might fulfil his childish dream of being a genius. The inspiration for the tests is a positive response in lab mouse Algernon, another of Charlie's many friends.

The surgery isn't an immediate success but Charlie's intelligence soon grows beyond what everyone expected, but the change in him is deeper as he realises that most of the reason people liked him before was because he was a bumbling fool who made everyone laugh, something he now resents.

To make matter worse, he finds research on the doctor's experiments from Russia where the subjects who got smarter gradually went back to their original state and lost it all.

After consummating a far more adult relationship with Alice, Charlie realises with heartbreak he'll probably lose all his abilities, setting about finding the solution himself before it's too late.

I won't reveal whether he does or not, but there is a quite affecting denouement to it all, especially with what becomes of the titular mouse Charlie loves so much.

But despite one scene that can't help but tug your heartstrings a bit, it can't escape the constraints of the medium it was made for, all shot on cheap video stock and with some very ropey acting and dialogue thrown right to the back stalls.

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