While watching Eric Byler’s debut film, the intriguing Charlotte Sometimes, images and visions of many other pictures frequently popped into my head. Among them: Anh Hung Tran’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun, Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood for Love, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, and David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls. All have the same easygoing, lyrical nature that Charlotte Sometimes frequently exhibits, though the sparse dialogue most resembles In the Mood for Love. Byler’s film lacks the emotional depth of the aforementioned pictures, but it’s worthwhile viewing for anyone who enjoyed their peaceful and poetic tones.
Charlotte Sometimes—which features an almost exclusively Asian-American cast—tells the story of Michael, a reclusive young mechanic who outwardly eschews women and relationships in favor of seclusion. Gradually, he’s pulled into a love triangle with his lovely roommate and a seductive stranger. As he wrestles with his internal confusion, he’s forced to decide which path to travel, shedding his emotional walls as he goes. Michael Idemoto’s performance as his namesake brings an authenticity to the role, a sullen but layered one full of confusion.
Whether you find the film unbearable or beautiful will depend exclusively on your connection to the characters. Charlotte Sometimes is a patient picture, full of lingering shots, long stretches without conversation, images of settings that reflect the mood. If you find the portrayals of Michael and the others to be honest and interesting, Charlotte Sometimes has the capability to hypnotize. If not, it’s likely to be a painful experience to endure. Words like “pretentious,” “lifeless,” “drab,” and “boring” will likely be uttered. I wasn’t surprised at all to see a very positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but a wretched one on IMDB; this is definitely the type of movie that divides audiences down the middle. Personally, I was engaged throughout, especially during the early portions as the identities were established, but found the whole affair pretty forgettable, as it’s already begun to blur in my head a bit. I’m not sure this is really a knock on the filmmaking; I simply found it rather routine, having seen many other entries in the genre before it.
Charlotte Sometimes is cleverly shot, but the handheld camera isn’t the best way to capture the aura that the film aims to project. The grainy color and shaky feel forms somewhat of an antithesis to the peaceful atmosphere that Charlotte Sometimes is all about. It’s a testament to the directorial talent and script that the picture is a modest success anyway. Though the themes aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they’re executed skillfully enough to make the movie well worth seeing—for fans of the genre, at any rate.