Director Eric Byler discusses being young, Asian and American in a novel way: by never directly addressing the subject in his film festival entry, “Charlotte Sometimes.”
Like the heroine of the Cure song from which the film derives its name, love eludes the characters in “Charlotte Sometimes.” Their positions in a shifting love quadrangle drive the film forward, as stoic Michael (Michael Idemoto), a mechanic too smart to slip into the grease monkey stereotype, pines for Lori (Eugenia Yuan), his tenant. Lori’s noisy lovemaking with Justin (Matt Westmore) drives Michael to a bar, where he meets the enigmatic Darcy (Jacqueline Kim), who threatens to destroy the vaguely romantic foundation upon which Michael and Lori’s relationship is built.
The acting is genuine, but Jacqueline Kim’s Darcy emerges as the film’s breakout performance. Kim – whose credits include “Brokedown Palace,” “Volcano” and a two-episode stint as mentor Lao Ma on “Xena: Warrior Princess” – radiates steamy passion and icy aloofness for a mesmerizing effect.
Byler’s most daring feat – aside from translating the open-endedly satisfying feel of a short story into an 85-minute feature – is his creation of characters who refreshingly defy the boundaries that usually restrict Asian characters in American cinema. Byler, who wrote the film’s script in addition to directing, producing and editing the film, allows Michael, Lori, Justin and Darcy to exist as neither stereotyped nor whitewashed; their respective nationalities figure into the plot in the viewing of a midnight anime movie or the use of chopsticks to eat dinner.
This “anti-romance,” as Byler calls it, delves into the duality of its characters’ lives. The four leads must assemble an identity somewhere between Asian and American, lover and friend.
“At the surface, it’s just a love story,” Byler told Artsweek in an interview. “[‘Charlotte Sometimes’] allowed me to reveal not just the light but the shadow as well, and present characters with flaws.”
Byler said his dual heritage allowed him to approach the subject matter from a rare directorial perspective.
“Because I am half Asian, I have an intimate knowledge of the Asian-American experience; but because I am half Caucasian, I also have the point of view of an outsider,” he said.
As far as his involvement in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, however, Byler said he imagined “Charlotte Sometimes” would challenge local audiences.
“For some people, it’s hard to look at the screen, see an Asian face and relate,” he said. “It’s a very challenging time for the film, but you could also say it’s the right time.”
“Charlotte Sometimes” is nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Jacqueline Kim for best supporting actress and Byler and Marc Ambrose for best feature made for under $500,000.
For more information about “Charlotte Sometimes” visit www.CharlotteSometimesTheMovie.com.