Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review: It Was You Charlie (2013)

The poster for It Was You Charlie (2013) (above) bares a striking resemblance to the promotional materials that accompanied the release of Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979), which shows an elegant figure of a man floating above a stately home. Here, Abner (Michael D. Cohen), Charlie’s protagonist floats above a boardwalk, but on closer inspection it appears he is suspended by a noose, one of the most memorable props from another of Ashby’s classics, Harold and Maude (1971). The poster is not the only similarity between Emannuel Shirinian’s remarkable film and Ashby’s cult classics.

It Was You Charlie tells the story of a once a successful sculptor and art lecturer who has since become a solitary and suicidal night-shift doorman. Abner was left broken hearted after his better-looking and altitudinous brother, Tom (Aaron Abrams) hooked up with a woman that he was head over heels in love with. On top of this, he is suffering the traumatic effects of a car accident that left the driver of the other vehicle dead. Abner's is almost consumed by the fog of post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts until the day he meets Zoe (Emma Fleury), a young and beautiful taxi driver who encourages him to see the light. As friendship blossoms between the pair, Abner begins to shine some perspective on his affairs, but as the fog subsides not everything is as clear as one would expect. 

The tone of Shirinan’s film immediately suggests that Abner’s problems run deeper than sibling rivalry and they do, yet the audience is invited to laugh at the misdemeanours of our hopeless protagonist, performed perceptively by Michael D Cohen. As mentioned Abner is an amalgam of Chance and Harold from Ashby’s films. You are able to both laugh at him and feel for him in equal measures. A creature of routine, poor Abner’s cycle is broken when he breaks off contact with his brother. Suddenly their annual trip to the cinema to see On the Waterfront comes to an abrupt end when his brother begins a relationship with Madeline, an object of admiration for our reluctant hero. Much like Abner’s mindset the chronology of the film is disjointed with scenes from his past running parallel with his present, creating mystery and intrigue within the narrative. A great deal of thought has been invested in the arrangement of events. Many scenes mirror others, whether visually or verbally. During a conversation with the object of his affection, Madeline (Anna Hopkins), Abner speaks of “moments of big collisions.” There is much significance in the dialogue here and that is tragically realised as the film proceeds.

A film focused on a depressed lead has the potential to be dreary and overbearing, yet the composition and the injection of amusing, light-hearted characters, such as the Tennesee Williamseque widow next-door, prevent this from happening. Director, Shirinian has great taste and shares his influences with pride. Using crepuscular cinematography and the dark imagery of the fairytales: big juicy red apples, distorted reflections and minuscule characters against giant decor, the aesthetic is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s catalogue in its sobriety. Zoe, the taxi driver could be clipped from the cells of Night On Earth (1991). Style aside, this is a film with a warm and ethical centre. Here we are presented with an amusing, hopeless character, the butt of a joke but slowly the layers are peeled back to humanise the laughing stock and create a heartwarming figure with a heartbreaking story and it’s done beautifully. A beguiling and thoroughly surprising film and once Shirinian has you where he wants you, he pulls the ornate rug sharply from under your feet, leaving you in a state of shock and admiration.  It was you Charlie, like its lead is short in length, but big in charm and bursting with heart and soul. But, who’s Charlie? 

Available now on iTunes 

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