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Charlotte Sometimes (Eric Byler, 2002)


    Charlotte Sometimes, the debut feature from director Eric Byler, features plenty of hushed moments that suggest the presence of nuances that never really emerge from its murky tone. Telling a modest tale about romantic obsession and disappointment, it is pitched low enough that its error never seem truly disastrous, but it definitely has the feel of a first feature. There are rough edges everywhere, and it assumes profundity more often than it demonstrates it. For every pause in the action that suggests maturity, thereís a gaffe that shows us how much Byler still has to grow. For example, is there a more simple-minded dysfunctional relationship in modern cinema than the one between the characters Lori and Michael? During sex, she asks him to say ďI love you,Ē and he asks her to say ďI hate you.Ē Their dynamic is so reductive and obvious that itís amazing itís supposed to hold audience interest. Throughout the first half of the film, Byler feels like heís building up to something. It feels like it has something to say. Unfortunately, he ultimately settles for melodrama instead of perceptiveness. It doesnít help matters that the film features inadequate performances that mostly consist of actors averting their eyes and shifting in their seats. When a film is dependent as this one on characterization, it requires a firmer hold on its castís interior lives than this one has.


    The opening section of Charlotte Sometimes stresses themes of disconnectedness and social alienation that one would usually expect to find in a film that uses a style dominated by master shots, but Byler shoots this film like a thriller. Midway through, the movie becomes something that could be loosely defined as a thriller, and the alienation shown takes place on a more personal level. The style begins to make sense, but the change of priorities doesnít satisfy, since it largely leaves the opening sectionís emotional concerns high and dry. The rather obvious character and plot twists keep the movie from ever feeling either surprising or deep. The soundtrack is far too dominant and haphazardly assembled for a movie that is attempting to convey the mood of the characters specifically. The unaccomplished DV photography rarely enlightens our understanding of the characters. A shot that uses a mirror to show us two Charlottes at once is the most obvious attempt possible, but itís the best the film really offers besides alternating which character is standing in the shadows at a given time. Since Byler doesnít really have any suspenseful set pieces lying in wait, either, perhaps it would have been best if he had approximated the master-shot style that other filmmakers have used with similar material (then again, maybe his demonstrable lack of formal control should make us thankful he hasnít). A wildly discordant tennis montage, which seems to have been ripped out of The Witches of Eastwick, is completely inexplicable on any terms. Though far from a disaster, Charlotte Sometimes is more admirable for what it tries to do than for what it manages to do.




Jeremy Heilman