Charlotte Gray

Eric Byler's debut feature starts off well but gets hazy as it proceeds

Charlotte Sometimes introduces us to Michael (Michael Idemoto), a taciturn mechanic who also happens to be a landlord. Lori (Eugenia Yuan) is his tenant and one of his best friends, allegedly, but she's also a fabulously beautiful woman who acts irritatingly flirty with him all the time, then has really loud sex next door that he gets to hear through the wall. Don't you hate that?

Michael is clearly just a little bit frustrated that the hottest lady he knows insists on being platonic and seems to have no clue that she's driving him crazy. Lori says she thinks her current passionate boyfriend with perfect abs, Justin (Matt Westmore), may be "the one," but Justin doesn't seem entirely happy that, post-coitus, Lori tends to go next door to Michael's pad and fall asleep there.

Enter Darcy (Jacqueline Kim), who espies our handy mechanic in a club -- the same club, it turns out, where he first met Lori. Darcy is eager to get it on, but it's impossible to read Michael: Is he just inept with women, or does his buried lust for Lori preclude thinking about others?

It's a simple enough setup to be a play. It's an intriguing premise too: At least in the film's early stages, we're drawn into this microcosm and somewhat invested in what will happen. Sadly, toward the end, things fall apart.

For one thing, our apparent protagonist, Michael, is a bore. Yeah, the character's a stoic. Every line Idemoto delivers makes it sound like a loved one has just died. Why Lori would hang out with this guy rather than her shallow but fun-loving boyfriend is a mystery -- as is Darcy's interest in him.

There's also the fact that Darcy and Justin ultimately act out of character in a manner that seems designed to further the plot rather than organically grow out of the situation. Neil LaBute could have a field day with this type of material, but Byler, even though he seems to want to make larger points about Asian-Americans via archetypal characters, doesn't have the chops just yet.

Which is not to say that Byler doesn't have skills -- that he engrosses us as much as he does in the characters is testament to that. His visual sense is also sound; though clearly low-budget, the movie never looks amateurish. Byler does fall a bit too much in love with the soundtrack music.

Lazy critics are already comparing Charlotte Sometimes to Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow simply because it features a young Asian cast. One might as well compare it to Enter the Dragon, though come to think of it, Bolo Yeung does exude more of a sexual vibe than Michael Idemoto. Byler may yet have a great movie in him, but Charlotte Sometimes is only half of one.

 
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