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'Charlotte' deftly tells a four-way story of love

June 20, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

To what "Charlotte Sometimes" refers may not become clear until its final moments, but every image is charged with wit, significance and emotion. A work of the utmost subtlety and perception, it marks the outstanding feature debut of writer-director Eric Byler, who understands the power of the implicit and the virtues of simplicity and economy.

Byler's story concerns the intersecting lives of four engaging young people and is set principally in Silver Lake over a period of several days. Michael (Michael Idemoto) is a Japanese American auto mechanic who has taken over a family business, just as he has taken over the family home, a large old Spanish-style hillside residence, which he has decorated in handsome contemporary style. He rents an apartment within the building to Lori (Eugenia Yuan) and her boyfriend, Justin (Matt Westmore).

As the film opens, Lori and Michael are watching TV in his living room. It is clear they have a close and affectionate relationship, and when Michael slips off to bed, leaving Lori asleep on his couch, he asks her the next day whether Justin, who apparently has been away, was upset that she had slept over. She says casually, "Oh, no, he knows we're just friends." The words sting, however, because Michael has long been in love with Lori and has never known how to express it. Lori and Justin's noisy love-making doesn't make things any easier.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
"Charlotte Sometimes" -- All four principal actors in the movie "Charlotte Sometimes" are Asian Americans. The review that ran in Friday's Calendar incorrectly stated that "three of its four principal actors are Asian Americans."

Then, at a neighborhood club, Michael meets the self-possessed Darcy (Jacqueline Kim), whose impact upon him is strong enough to overcome his shyness. Apparently a writer of sorts who says she's just passing through, Darcy is one of those individuals who has an inevitable catalytic effect on others while remaining essentially enigmatic. That her transient lifestyle may or may not suggest that she's running from something is ultimately beside the point, for what's important about her is that she is a strong, independent and direct woman who can see straight through others, often sparking confrontation.

For a rigorously low-key film, "Charlotte Sometimes" generates considerable suspense about how it will play out. Lori feels especially threatened by Darcy in regard to Justin, who Lori hopes will propose. She also does not want to see Michael get hurt, but it gradually becomes clear that no matter what happens, ultimately Darcy will have done Michael a favor by forcing him to see what a rut he's living in.

"Charlotte Sometimes" gains a terrific edge and personality in that its maker is biracial and that three of its four principals are Asian Americans. That such an appealing man as Michael should be so cut off gains credibility when we see that he is a dutiful Asian male, strongly shaped by tradition and its responsibilities -- he is for example very attentive to his aunt (Shizuko Hoshi). That Lori and Michael are of different racial backgrounds may be a source of insecurity and even desperation for her. That Asian women are supposed to be meek and subservient may fuel rebellion in Darcy.

All this and more Byler invites us to intuit and consider, for he is a sharply observant filmmaker who spells nothing out. He makes everything work for him: disciplined, multifaceted portrayals from his actors, music and cinematography that expresses perfectly the shifting moods in the interactions of these four individuals.

Would that all love stories were as sophisticated and amusing as the satisfying "Charlotte Sometimes."

*

'Charlotte Sometimes'

MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Complex adult themes and situations, some sexuality.

Michael Idemoto...Michael

Jacqueline Kim...Darcy

Eugenia Yuan...Lori

Matt Westmore...Justin

Shizuko Hoshi...Auntie Margie

A Visionbox Pictures presentation of a Visionbox Pictures production. Writer-director Eric Byler. Producers Marc Ambrose, Eric Byler. Executive producers John Bard Manulis, Michael Kastenbaum. Cinematographer Rob Humphreys. Editors Eric Byler, Ken Kashima. Music Michael Brook. Featuring songs by Cody Chesnutt. Costumes/Makeup Marianne Kai. Production designer Robert Shinso. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At selected theaters.

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