A woman rises naked from the bed of her lover, dresses, walks outside and up the stairs of her duplex to spend the rest of the night, platonically, with another man. With that opening sequence of CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, Eric Byler engages his audience from the first frame of film in a way that is irresistible. The wonder, though, isn’t that he is capable of drawing us in from the get-go, but that he follows through with a film that is both emotionally intimate and explosive beneath its deceptively serene surface. This is a world where what it unsaid is more potent that what is, and where what is said confuses rather than reveals.
The woman is Lori (Eugenia Yuan), a sultry beauty either indifferent or oblivious to the feelings of Michael (Michael Idemoto), the mechanic with whom she sleeps peacefully, as opposed to Justin (Matt Westmore), the yuppie with whom she has intense, athletic and very loud sex. Michael pines, Lori drifts between the two, and Justin doesnt seem too concerned. Its a situation ripe for stirring up and when Darcy, a woman drifting through town, pounces on Michael thats just what happens, starting with Loris startled expression when Michael turns her away because Darcy is there. Its a lovely moment of realization. Yuans subtle shift in expression shows how the feelings that Lori has taken for granted, hers and his, are suddenly coming into sharper focus and on both of their faces there is an unspoken but unmistakable exchange, the inkling of the emotional twists and turns theyll both be going through very soon.
Byler understands that film is a visual medium and exploits that quality with a sure hand that belies this being his first feature film. Emotions register with a glance or a perfectly composed shot rather than with egregious exposition. Without the filter of words, the feelings of those on screen have an immediacy and a gut-wrenching honesty to them that mere verbalization cant match. When this uneasy quartet tries to have a casual Sunday brunch together, the darting glances, the twirling of silverware bespeaks a mood darker and more dangerous than the determinedly chipper if clipped chatter.
Idemoto is a strong, testosterone-rich presence, making what could have been a wimpy character infinitely more interesting. His inner conflict about making a move on Lori is sharper, the move a real possibility rather than a pipe dream. His turning down Darcys offer of sex with her because shes a stranger is initially unexpected, yet oddly jibes with the nobility in which hes taken refuge as a code of honor as well as an excuse for inaction. As Darcy, Jacqueline Kim has her own sharp edge, with an intelligent brittleness beneath the casual façade that bespeaks an agenda yet to be revealed.
The writer Iris Murdoch once said that everything spoken is a lie, even something as mundane as Pass me the salt. Eric Byler, with CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, has made that sentiment manifest with impeccable artistry.