Is afterglow shower-proof? If she loves you more than you love her, is it fair to stay? Can a woman enjoy sex with a man she despises? These are only some of the questions that writer and director Eric Byler poses in his feature debut, “Charlotte Sometimes.” A deliberately paced film about lies cloaked as truths and impenetrable facades, “Sometimes” focuses on the unfulfilled desires of four Asian Americans as they simultaneously love and hurt each other.
Michael (Michael Idemoto) secretly longs for Lori (Eugenia Yuan) but tells her, “I’m not afraid to be alone.” Every night, Lori enjoys noisy sex with her boyfriend Justin (Matt Westmore) but calls him a “user.” Justin is distant and clueless, but claims to love Lori. Darcy (Jacqueline Kim) is a roving writer who catches Michael’s attention but warns him, “Men don’t really want to be with me — they just think they do.” Subtle lines, furtive glances and visual innuendos make “Charlotte Sometimes” an intricate emotional roller coaster that requires multiple viewings to understand each character’s complexities and insecurities. Although flawed in various ways, they all seek the same goal — a higher form of love that seems beyond their grasp.
Completed over the span of six years on a budget of $20,000, the film deftly uses shadows and distinctive camera angles to correspond with the characters’ buried secrets and inner deception. Often key action takes place when shadows swallow their faces. When sexual energy rises between Michael and Darcy, their silhouettes are backlit by a soft green glow from outside. We can only imagine their expressions and wonder if they will let their guards down. Many scene transitions are filmed from the outside looking in. Rarely does cinematographer Robert Humphreys employ the conventional shot/reverse shot technique to place the audience in a character’s perspective. Instead we are voyeurs peering through windows, watching from across the street and eavesdropping through walls. High angles make the characters appear small, as though they are too wrapped up in their trivial relationship games to establish any meaningful connections with each other.
“Charlotte Sometimes” is a sexy, raw and mature film that tells it like it is, not how it ought to be. Byler respects his audience enough not to spell out every nuance and plot twist. Well acted by an accomplished Asian-American cast, “Sometimes” depicts three-dimensional people, not caricatures created by Hollywood. Films, such as “Charlotte Sometimes” and Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow,” propel independent cinema in the right direction — to tell good stories, regardless of race. Dubbed by Byler as an “anti-romance,” “Sometimes” offers no tidy solutions for its characters. We leave Michael, Lori, Justin and Darcy as we found them — caught in their self-made web of deceit and vulnerability. Likewise, we depart with more questions than answers about ourselves.
See Charlotte Sometimes at Water Tower Theatre. 175 East Chestnut. Red Line to Chicago Ave.