Directed by Eric Byler. Starring Jacqueline Kim, Michael Idemoto, Eugenia Yuan, Matt Westmore, Shizuko Hoshi. (2003, NR, 85 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 19, 2003
As an antidote to talky American indies involving twentysomething romantic conundrums, Charlotte Sometimes hits just the right note. More a mood piece than a standard relationship drama, Charlotte Sometimes courts a vague and opaque tone which, although part of the movie’s unique charm, also works against the story by creating insistently obtuse mysteries that deliver little, if any, narrative satisfaction. This is a movie about the telling silences between people, silences that are replicated in real time and leave as much room for interpretation as the real thing. This movie’s willful opacity will strike some viewers, myself included, as a disagreeable manipulation, but unresolved mysteries aside, Charlotte Sometimes has a lot to recommend it. In fact, even the silent opacity is a welcome contrast to the voluble self-absorption that so often passes for a relationship study in modern American film. Idemoto plays bookish car mechanic Michael, who spends a lot of his downtime at home reading and moodily staring into space. He leases the other half of the Los Angeles duplex he owns and resides in to Lori (Yuan), who can be heard through the walls having boisterous sex with her partner Justin (Westmore). After the sex, she often comes over to Michael’s side of the building to cuddle the night away and fall asleep on the couch entwined in Michael’s arms while watching videos. Both Justin and Michael seem a bit out of sorts in the morning. There’s also something symbolic going on with the building’s malfunctioning garage door, but that’s another access code I’m not privy to. Into Michael’s life comes the mysterious Darcy (Kim), whose intentions and background remain cloaked, although her physique and countenance stand in contrast to those of the petite and bubbly Lori. The four characters are all Asian-Americans, which provides another layer of meaning for Charlotte Sometimes as the film intrinsically shows us, although without ever overtly commenting on it, some of the unique inter- and intra-cultural ramifications of the Asian-American dating scene. Rob Humphreys’ camerawork is stunning to look at, full of intense colors and shadows and stylized framing. Writer-director Byler, in his first feature film, also proves to be a noteworthy new voice, even if his cinematic sense outweighs his narrative sense in this initial outing.