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The Independent Critic

Kenny Pitts, John Frazier, Julia Curry, Adam Hampton, Chuck Pitts, Carson Miller, David Smith, Thor Henson, Jason Garner
Adam Hampton
108 Mins.

 "The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas" an Indie Gem 
If you would weave together such seemingly different films as Blankman, V for Vendetta, Lars and the Real Girl, Sling Blade and Lonesome Jim, then you might be able to grasp what it feels like to watch writer/director Adam Hampton's The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas.

Charlie (Kenny Pitts) is a socially awkward 32-year-old high school janitor who becomes inspired to become a costumed vigilante in his small Oklahoma town. Having been bullied for being different a good majority of his life, Charlie reaches this point where he seemingly grasps for something, maybe anything, that will give his life a semblance of meaning. His decision to become, for lack of a better term, a "superhero" comes just as he's exploring an innocent friendship with a neighbor named Gracie (Julia Curry), whose life also bears unexpected similarities to Charlie's.

While there is humor to be found in The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas, the simple truth is that the film is far more heartfelt and thought-provoking than it is "entertaining" in the traditional sense. The humor that is present is authentic and borne out of our own uncomfortable recognition of Charlie's awkwardness and the situations in which he finds himself.

Of course, a film also can't go wrong when it has a delightfully deadpan Jesus.

But, seriously. There are moments in The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas that are truly mesmerizing.

Mesmerizingly funny.

Mesmerizingly sweet.

Mesmerizingly heartfelt.

Mesmerizingly brutal.

Mesmerizingly thrilling.

Simply mesmerizing.

The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas is about discovering the superhero within and, as well, discovering that just maybe the superhero within is vastly overrated. It's about growing into oneself through all the weaknesses, quirks, tragedies, traumas, strengths, triumphs, failures and all.

The character of Charlie has been victimized his whole life, in the name of love and in the name of hate and in the name of everything in between. He's a desperate human being with an essentially good heart but a whole lot of bottled up rage and confusion and rivers upon rivers of grief. He has some people who care about him, including his brother Mike (John Frazier), but most who do so do it in a way that resembles the way we all used to pity that awkward kid in school picked his nose and wore dirty clothes but was basically harmless.

Basically condescending pity masked as friendship or some semblance of it.

Charlie is brought to life in a beautifully understated yet deeply felt performance by Kenny Pitts. Pitts never carries Charlie truly like a superhero, but like a man who is convinced that being a superhero somehow makes him a better man or at least allows him to hide away from the truth for awhile longer. Pitts is never cartoonish, yet also never larger than life. Pitts's Charlie is both richly human and vulnerably brave.

Among the supporting players, Julia Curry shines mostly brightly Gracie, a beautiful and sweet co-worker of Charlie's whose troubled home life becomes yet another major thread in Adam Hampton's remarkably layered story. Speaking of Hampton, it's almost difficult to imagine that the same guy who wrote such an intelligent and sensitive script is the same guy who plays Brad, a particularly brutal character in the film whose ever increasing monstrous behavior comprises some of the film's most challenging scenes.

For a micro-budgeted production, The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas is gifted with a remarkably solid production package including Cory Perschbacher's stellar original music, the mood-setting and creative camera work of Jason Alexander and  James Bridges and Tony Weeks' clear and effective sound design. Even the film's make-up team deserves kudos for their realistic work that transcends what one can usually expect from a micro-budgeted film.

The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas is by no means a cinematic masterpiece, with too many "fade to black" shots and the occasional slow edit that minimally dilutes the emotional impact of a scene. Yet, in reality, these are minor quibbles for a film that grabs hold of you in its opening moments and holds your attention for its entire 108-minute running time with a story that is involving, characters who are compelling and and an overall impact that stays with you long after the closing credits have rolled.

The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas is currently on the film festival circuit and has already had appearances at Action on Film, deadCenter, Syracuse International Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Fest, Cinesol Film Festival,  San Antonio Film Festival, SoonerCon and others. There's no question there will be quite a few others before its festival run is complete.

For more information on the film, be sure to visit its website or check out its Facebook page. The film is a production of Oklahoma's award-winning Outsiders Productions.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic