Subtle even for a micro-budgeted independent film, Charlotte Sometimes initially seems intent on proving that it's possible to be way too understated. The film begins as a low-key character study about a laconic bookworm of a mechanic (Michael Idemoto) who pines for his sexy, flirtatious best friend (Eugenia Yuan), but lacks the nerve to act on his infatuation. As a protagonist, Idemoto comes across as passive and more than a little bland. That makes it almost a relief when the film's emphasis shifts from him to Jacqueline Kim, who's outstanding as a mysterious stranger who shakes up Idemoto's comfortable but dull existence and forces him to re-examine his relationship with Yuan. Charlotte Sometimes begins unpromisingly and is hampered by shaky lighting that shrouds many of its characters in near-darkness, but it picks up once it reveals that Yuan and Kim have an intense but vague history together, and that Kim isn't who she appears to be. The songs of Cody ChesnuTT, who also turns in a poorly lit cameo, underline the mood of bittersweet melancholy, and Eric Byler's screenplay and direction suggest much while revealing little, allowing the audience to piece together the film's backstory and meaning. Ingeniously plotted and deceptively complex, Charlotte Sometimes derives suspense by methodically withholding information, generating tension from the layers of subtext underpinning even the most seemingly inconsequential conversations. Also refreshing is the film's low-key, naturalistic handling of potentially melodramatic developments, and the way Byler creates confident, sexually assertive, complicated Asian-American female characters without being overly self-conscious about defying stereotypes. Both help make Charlotte Sometimes an understated but engaging sleeper.