Review: Charlotte’s Song (2015)

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The Vancouver International Film Festival has come to town again, and like every year I try and watch some Canadian films that I may not get a chance to see again after this. Tons of films get to VIFF, TIFF and various festivals then disappear. You don’t know what will find distribution from there. Now, I didn’t choose this movie, but I was open to my friend’s suggestion of Charlotte’s Song because… well, because I’ll watch whatever, but also it was a nice surprise that it was locally made, mostly shot in a frat house on the UBC campus.

The story is recalls The Little Mermaid, but more the classic story, not the Disney version. Charlotte was raised in an old dust bowl bar that her father, George, owns. His wife leads a group of dancing ladies for entertainment. But one night a mysterious old lady arrives and says that there is an imbalance between the sea and the land and tries to take Charlotte away. So, to protect her, her mother takes her life and is revealed to not be human, but rather a creature from the sea. But as the years pass and Charlotte gets older, she begins to discover that she also has her mother’s powers.

Charlotte’s Song paints a lovely picture, with an original premise and a lot of promise. And in many ways the film works. As a visual piece of art, it really is something. There was so much care in the set decoration, costumes and cinematography. It’s nice when indie pictures put the effort into making film artistically fulfilling. It’s a visual medium and that should be taken advantage of more often. Despite the darker tone, the colours are rich and the images are sharp. I respect this because I feel that in my indie movie making, sometimes the visuals are lacking for the sake of time and logistics. But it seemed like there was no compromise for the art of the medium, which I respect.

The script unfortunately chugs along a little clunky. The story and structure are there and I respect their ability to keep all the action pretty much in a single setting, but the dialogue plods along painfully. It worked at times, but often it was dry and lacked the realistic spark of spontaneity. It served it’s purpose as far as the characters needing to say lines to each other, but there was neither a poetic touch or the flavour of realism. Real folks, even in the depression, weren’t so damn uninteresting. And while the characters aren’t shallow, having inner struggles and some back story, they’re flavourless beyond that.

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This leads into the performances of the actors, which are mixed. It’s interesting to see which actors were able to overcome the dull dialogue and dish out some decent work. I don’t want to pick on anyone specifically, but some of the characters were wooden or just seemed to be trying too hard. What I can say is that I became all the more impressed with the actors who were able to make it work. To highlight a few, Katelyn Major, who played Charlotte, actually turned in some good work despite being the youngest in the ensemble. Steve Bradley, who played Tim, brought a lot of strength and nuance to his character and easily has the best acting moment in the movie. When Charlotte brings out a line about Tim not having to pay for her services, he gets an impassioned, righteous anger and conveys it all in a single look. And the biggest actor of the bunch was Iwan Rheon, best known for his roles in Game of Thrones and Misfits. He brings a noticeable level of prestige to the picture.

I think one goes into a picture like this with high hopes because sometimes genre films of this nature can make a new favourite movie. There are a lot of great concepts in here and they mostly pan out well, but the delivery just needed work. And that means that this likely won’t make anyone’s favourite list, either in life or even in the festival. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s Song gets enough right that I would say it’s worth seeing. And it shows a lot of promise from director Nicholas Humphries, who functions well as a visual director. He’s got visual style and a good grasp of narrative, which are important. If he can collaborate better with his writers and actors, he could be one to watch.

3 Stars

-DF