Killing Me Softly


Wrong Cure title: Charlotte Sometimes, which tunnels into the achy, nebulous, downtime-filled lives of a few L.A. twentysomethings, would have been more aptly called In Between Days. Bookish mechanic Michael (Michael Idemoto) has long nursed a stoic crush on his coquettish tenant, Lori (Eugenia Yuan), who enjoys boisterous sex with doltish boyfriend Justin (Matt Westmore), but creeps upstairs almost nightly for post-coital snuggles with fellow insomniac Michael—an arrangement that tends to leave both guys in a morning-after funk. This little enclave of needy dysfunction is knocked off its axis with the appearance of Darcy (Jacqueline Kim), who materializes in a noir-femme nimbus, dispensing scary sidelong glances and tartly gnomic admonitions (“Men don’t really want to be with me. They only think they do”)—a touch of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, or is it Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? A purposeful, intimidatingly still presence, she propels sad-sack Michael into a horny, befuddled trance, churning up a backwash of sludgy mystery. How exactly does Lori know Darcy? Why does Darcy keep disappearing and reappearing? Is her name even really Darcy?

The questions are ultimately decorative. (A: Dunno, dunno, see title.) Eric Byler’s first feature is above all an exercise in laconic mood-making. The thoughtfully calibrated performances contrast starkly with the abstract ambience; Kim is especially impressive, merging the James Spader and Laura San Giacomo roles in sex, lies and videotape (a film that Charlotte Sometimes echoes in its air of erotic ennui and its interpersonal geometry, and that it directly homages in its final moments). Byler handles the cross-firing discomfort of the double-date scenes with suggestive economy: an afternoon rooftop picnic after a few too many beers; an exquisitely uneasy lunch at a Thai eatery, where Darcy obnoxiously railroads the conversation and herds them all together for a group photo: “Smile really Asian!” That injunction notwithstanding, race is largely incidental, the stereotype-tweaking subtextual and matter-of-fact. The characters are almost all Asian American; Justin, who looks white, is actually half-Asian, half-white (as is the director), and his presence allows the film to complicate its romantic permutations, tacitly addressing the frictions of intra- and interracial relationships.

Charlotte Sometimes is a movie of considerable surface allure, from the attractive cast to Rob Humphreys’s coolly shimmering DV photography to the soundtrack of sleepy Cody ChesnuTT come-ons. But it’s also a bit of a sham—a self-conscious enigma with a few too many undermotivated ellipses. Conspicuously withheld information proves barely relevant; teasing silences are less meaningful than they’d like to be. Using vagueness as a crutch, Charlotte Sometimes makes a fetish of opacity. Still, whether or not it’s a pose, the film’s poised reticence is refreshing in context—a rebuke to the contemporary crop of blabbermouthed American indies.