Sometimes, a film unfolds so quietly and subtly that to attempt to explain the plot is to spoil the entire story. It Was You Charlie, written and directed by Emmanuel Shirnian, comes together so invisibly that it’s very much like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in which you can’t get a satisfying idea of the big picture until the final, tiny piece is locked in place.
Shirnian’s directorial debut tells the story of Abner (Michael D. Cohen in a spot on performance), a diminutive, shy doorman who works the graveyard shift in an apartment building where he and his fellow doorman are accustomed to secretly entering apartments while tenants are out to make a snack from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. Through flashbacks, we learn that Abner was once a respected Artist and Professor whose unrequited love for a beautiful student, Madeleine (Anna Hopkins) is rendered all the more poignant by the fact that she has fallen in love with his tall, handsome brother, Tom (Aaron Abrams).
Abner’s loss of his love interest, which consequently results in a deep rift between him and his brother, pitches him into a downward spiral, leading to his involvement in a two car collision in which the driver of the other car does not survive. Despite his continued appreciation for art and his dream of one day moving to Greece, Abner’s world view is bleak and his thoughts of suicide are ever present.
Enter Zoe (played by Emma Fleury, who reminds me very favorably Greta Gerwig) an upbeat and outgoing cab driver who befriends Abner and attempts to cajole him out of his depression. Through his relationship with Zoe, Abner begins to emerge from his funk and seeks to mend his damaged psyche and relationships.
The film segues seamlessly between hyper-reality and surreal, dreamlike scenes that will keep you questioning how much of the action is going on only in Abner’s imagination. For me, being kept guessing also kept me engaged in the journey towards an emotionally resonant outcome that wasn’t necessarily predictable.
And for those wondering, as you should be, who the titular ‘Charlie’ is: “It was you, Charlie” is a quote taken from the most famous scene in the Marlon Brando classic, On the Waterfront, a film that Abner and Tom have a tradition of seeing annually on Abner’s birthday — an event on which several key plot points pivot.
It Was You Charlie is billed as a dark comedy/drama, and it definitely isn’t a traditionally funny film. Anyone going in with an expectation of seeing a silly, feel-good movie will be disappointed. While I did laugh out loud a couple of times, the moments of humor derive from the absurdity of the action and discomfort of the characters – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just be advised that this film is unexpectedly heavy, and it will probably take you a few days to really digest and appreciate what you’ve seen.
It Was You Charlie will be available via Video On Demand as of September 23rd and will open in NYC at Cinema Village (22 E 12th Street) on September 26th, 2014.
The Worley Gig Gives It Was You Charlie 3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars