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With: Michael Idemoto, Eugenia Yuan, Jacqueline Kim, Matt Westmore, Shizuko Hoshi, Kimberly-Rose Wolter
Written by: Eric Byler, Jeff Liu
Directed by: Eric Byler
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and some language
Language: English, Japanese, Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 85
Date: 03/11/2002

Charlotte Sometimes (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Sometimes' a Great Notion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Charlotte Sometimes sounds like a disaster. An up-and-coming, 30-year-old filmmaker shoots a movie on digital video about relationships, probably tripping over half-a-dozen other would-be filmmakers doing the same thing at the same time.

And a quick trip to the Internet Movie Database reveals a measly 3.0 rating (out of 10), perhaps based on the same previewing prejudices.

However, let me be the first to eat my own grumblings and announce that Charlotte Sometimes is a very accomplished and extremely engaging movie.

The situation begins in a split house in sunny Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Soft-spoken, easygoing Michael (Michael Idemoto) owns the house and works as an auto mechanic. He inherited both house and job from his family and he has no real aspirations to do anything else or to live anywhere else.

Michael is secretly in love with Lori (Eugenia Yuan), who occupies the house's second unit. Lori's boyfriend Justin (Matt Westmore) stays with her all the time and they have noisy sex late into the night. After the sex, Lori sneaks up to Michael's place for cuddling, talking and late-night videos. She has the best of both worlds, but for poor Michael, this situation sucks.

One night Michael meets another woman, Darcy (Jacqueline Kim), in a bar and brings her home. She and Michael hit it off, but there's something strange about her. She won't tell Michael much about herself and keeps reminding him that she won't be sticking around long.

Of course, Darcy's powerful personality finally shakes up the unpleasant love triangle taking place in the house, and writer/director Eric Byler handles this without sitcom moments or obvious plot twists. The story unwinds naturally, guided by human clumsiness, as if following the non-logic of a long conversation.

Thankfully, Byler does not load up his movie with talk -- a common mistake of writer/directors who think they're Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder. He savors the little silences, especially the late night conversations between Michael and the two girls. Michael is already a quiet type, with his emotions tucked away somewhere deep. His scenes are full of pauses, lingering moments. Every line spoken echoes in the memory, and the acting is good enough to sell it.

The movie also avoids the annoying one-dimensional personality quirks that usually make up romantic comedies like this. Even the sex god Justin turns out to be a pretty decent guy once you get to know him.

Most of this year's best films have succeeded beautifully using digital video: Ten, Russian Ark, Unknown Pleasures, etc. but because of its gentle nature Charlotte Sometimes in particular could have benefited from the subtle warmth and texture that film provides.

Of course, without the low cost of digital video, Charlotte Sometimes could never have been made. Here's a proposal: why doesn't Hollywood use DV to shoot some of its more inane and disposable films like Kangaroo Jack, Boat Trip and A Man Apart and donate the expensive film stock it wasted to up and coming filmmakers like Byler?

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