Film

The Bleakly Funny It Was You Charlie Boasts a Great Central Performance

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You’d have to be pint-sized to get stuck in between a partially opened window and the windowsill when trying to leap to your death. This happens to Abner (Michael D. Cohen) in the first few minutes of It Was You Charlie, Emmanuel Shirinian’s bleakly funny debut. Abner, a former art teacher-turned-seething, lonely doorman, is an already small person whose self-loathing dwarfs him further.

Everyone — the chatty tenants in his building, whose lodgings he sometimes sneaks into, his demented, prying boss, and his estranged relatives — towers over him; even his voice, at its most enraged, is somehow elfin. The movie mostly unfolds in flashbacks to several of Abner’s traumatic past birthdays; one year, he lost his longtime crush to his handsomer, slicker brother (Aaron Abrams), and another involved a fatal car accident. Abner now suffers from blackouts and delusions; he’s so jittery that all of his suicide attempts fail (most hilariously, he gags on the muzzle of a rifle).

The sweeter — and blander — side of It Was You Charlie is set in the present, where Abner’s warm-hearted neighbor (Emma Fleury) tries to break down his fear of intimacy, and his family tries to mend past wounds. You can detect the sappy resolution a mile away. But Shirinian has made a swift, moody film, with impeccable art design — Abner’s diorama of the car wreck is a kooky marvel — a scarily convincing feel for recurring panic, and a thunderous, heart-rending performance at its center.

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