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CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES(director/writer/editor/producer: Eric Byler; screenwriters: Jeff Liu/story by Mr. Byler; cinematographer: Robert Humphreys; editor: Kenn Kashima; music: Michael Brook/songs sung by Cody Chestnutt; cast: Michael Idemoto (Michael), Jacqueline Kim (Darcy), Eugenia Yuan (Lori), Matt Westmore (Justin), Shizuko Hoshi (Auntie Margie), Kimberly Rose (Annie); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marc Ambrose; Visionbox; 2002)
“Charlotte Sometimes is a gem. It’s always enthralling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eric Byler’s (who is half-Chinese) stunning debut feature, shot on a DV CAM and made for under $500,000, in which he directs and co-writes and co-edits and co-produces, is a compelling character drama centering around Asian Americans. For an American audience, it’s not that often when they view an Asian American film without someone having to kick someone’s ass and one that’s not a martial arts film. This low-budget indie was financed by Visionbox, an L.A. company launched a few years ago by indie producer and former Samuel Goldwyn executive John Manulisset. The film is set in modern times in L.A.’s Echo Park. At the 2002 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, Charlotte Sometimes was a co-winner of the Narrative Feature First Film Audience Award; it also won Special Jury Prize for Narrative Filmmaking at the 2002 Florida Film Festival.

The artful film draws us immediately into its fascinating real-life characters and we never are drawn away from the engrossing love interest story and its shift in triangular relationships. Sex is the hot biscuit served as the dish needed to top off a relationship, and its urgency and weight it carries ultimately betrays how selfish an act it could be and how misunderstood the need for companionship could be. It also tries to get at the underbelly feelings felt by the film’s hero about racial mixing and assimilation and lets its lingering images settle in during moments of provocative silences to allow the viewer space to draw their own conclusions.

Michael (Michael Idemoto, he’s also a director of the film “Sunsets”) is a quiet, sensitive, passive, amiable, twentysomething auto mechanic. He’s a mechanic who also reads a lot–at night he’s reading Camus. Michael took over the family auto shop when his uncle died, and his brother and no one else in his extended family was interested. At the nearby club he frequents after work, he met 3 years ago an attractive Asian waitress and aspiring actress, Lori (Eugenia Yuan), and rented out the bottom room in his converted house, now a duplex, located on a hilly street. For the last 10 months Lori has been living with a hunky half-Asian musician, Justin (Matt Westmore), she thinks she loves but has trouble relating to him outside of sex. Michael yearns for Lori, but can’t express his love for her openly. The two instead form a caring platonic brother and sister relationship. Lori’s groans could be heard through the thin walls and afterwards she feels comfortable coming over to see Michael. She watches TV on the sofa with Michael and innocently falls asleep on his shoulder.

Michael is mindful of looking after his elderly and widowed aunt (Shizuko Hoshi), as he dines with her regularly on Sunday evenings.

The independent-minded Michael spurns Lori’s offer to be fixed up on a blind date, and bravely tells her he’s not afraid to be alone. While relaxing at the club, a place with a mixed clientele of whites and Asians, Michael’s attracted to a mysterious looking Asian woman who is a writer and calls herself Darcy (Jacqueline Kim). Darcy makes eye contact, they go for a walk and she both leads him on and curtails him from knowing much about her. Darcy further teases him, by saying she’s not going to be around for a long time since she’s only visiting the city. After also warning Michael that she’s not his type or for that matter anyone’s type, she further baits him saying: “Men don’t want to be around me; they only think they do.” Michael finds her alluring and can’t resist trying to win her. When she offers him a one-night stand, saying sex is the fastest way to get somewhere, Michael turns her down. He only wants more time with her and wants to take no short-cuts. His reluctance could be because he’s really in love with Lori and just can’t admit that.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Darcy is anxious to meet Lori and when they do it turns out that they knew each other from childhood and Darcy is really Charlotte. She was the one Lori was going to fix Michael up with. They double-date, play tennis, and retreat to Michael’s for a rooftop barbecue. After 5 1/2 days of Michael and Darcy seeing each other without having sex, Lori figures it’s best not to tell him. She makes Darcy promise that she will not try to take Justin away from her and to please keep it real with Michael. But the dynamics of the relationships change when Michael on his own discovers the secret.

Charlotte Sometimes boils over with an insightful conclusion. The ensemble cast excels through their restrained performances, as they explore the hidden depths of the characters. The lead characters have made mistakes and can’t seem to learn anything about themselves but through feeling vulnerable, lonesome, repressed and psychologically pained. Charlotte Sometimes is a gem. It’s always enthralling. Its bittersweet and unpredictable ending reveals the pains it takes for those in need to stop being afraid to face themselves and not hide from the world through various diversions.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”