Basically a two-hander for Canadian actors Maurice Dean Wint and Callum Keith Rennie, “Curtis’s Charm” is a bleakly comical tale of male bonding and junkie paranoia on the mean streets of Toronto. Debut feature by writer-director John L’Ecuyer has slim commercial potential, but should make its mark on global fest circuit.
Based on a story by Jim Carroll, black-and-whit pic has a deliberately raw and ragged look that is less an affectation than an embellishment. Indeed, the recent, tooslick filmization of Carroll’s “The Basketball Diaries” could have used a healthy dose of this comedydrama’s street-smart grunginess.
Jim (Rennie), the white narrator, is a recovered heroin addict who lends a sympathetic yet increasingly impatient ear to Curtis (Wint), a black buddy from his rehab days. The flamboyantly loquacious Curtis is still hooked on crack cocaine, and is deeply troubled by paranoid delusions. He’s convinced that his mother-in-law (Barbara Barnes-Hopkins) is a voodoo priestess who has conjured up such creatures as a killer squirrel and amoney-stealing mouse to torment him. He’s also convinced that any passer-by, even a maintenance man in the park where Curtis and Jim chat, might be some kind of malevolent agent of terror.
Most of “Curtis’s Charm” is a long dialogue between the two rehab buddies, sporadically illustrated with Curtis’ paranoid fantasies. If only to stop Curtis’ nonstop rap, Jim pretends to offer a magical cure-all that will lift the voodoo curse. Unfortunately, nothing good comes of this.
Wint has the showier part, and he plays it to the hilt. At once amusing and unsettling, he gracefully maneuvers through some wild mood swings, and never seems more than a scream away from a complete breakdown. Rennie has relatively little to do other than react and comment. But he is very good at conveying Jim’s mounting uneasiness, and even better at making his character appear repulsed and fascinated in equal measures.
Rachael Crawford has the only secondary role of any importance, and makes a strong impression in her few scenes as Curtis’ estranged wife.
L’Ecuyer, an admitted ex-junkie, clearly understands his pic’s milieu. More important, he’s smart enough not to romanticize his characters and their hard-scrabble lives. Respectable tech credits including Harald Bachmann’s skittish cinematography, mark L’Ecuyer as a filmmaker who knows how to make the absolute most of an obviously limited budget.