Director: Clark Gregg
Screenwriter: Clark Gregg, adapted from the Chuck Palahniuk novel
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Johnathon Dorfman, Temple Fennell
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly McDonald, Brad Henke, Clark Gregg
SONY HD Cam
U.S.A., 2007, 89 min.
*Actor-turned-director Clark Gregg shows he is as adept behind the camera as in front of it with Choke, a wickedly colorful dark comedy about mothers and sons, sexual compulsion, and the sordid underbelly of colonial theme parks.
Victor Mancini, a sex-addicted med-school dropout, keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida, in an expensive private mental hospital by working days as a historical reenactor. At night he runs a scam where he deliberately chokes in upscale restaurants to form parasitic relationships with the wealthy patrons who "save" him. When, in a rare lucid moment, Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of his father's identity, Victor must enlist the aid of his best friend, Denny, a recovering chronic masturbator, and his mother's beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall, to solve this mystery before the truth of his possibly divine parentage is lost forever.
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke tickles the funny bone as it dives into darker areas of human behavior. At the heart of the film is yet another staggering performance by Sam Rockwell as Victor. He fully inhabits the character and nails both the comedic and dramatic aspects with indelible timing and delivery. A delicious blend of fresh writing, juicy performances, and sharp directing, Choke is actually quite easy to swallow.
*Summary by Trevor Groth, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Nice to see a balls-out comedy at Sundance, and Choke certainly fits that description. I was expecting something far darker in a Chuck Palahniuk adaptation, but Choke manages to be extreme and light at the same time. Fight Club is the only other Palahniuk film I know of, and though Choke is also about strange subversive cultures, this film manages to show them in a much more humorous light. There are also some very effective dramatic scenes between Sam Rockwell and Angelica Huston that lend a certain amount of weight to the film. I’m not sure if this will be Rockwell’s breakout role as many people are saying, he seems to be an actor who will always do small strange things like this just outside of the mainstream. If he is getting roles like these, I’m not sure why he would go mainstream. This is a very sexual film, but the humor helps blunt some of the more insanely sexual scenes.
For instance, I never thought there would be a motion picture, outside of a porno, that used anal beads as a main plot point. There is also a scene where a woman pays Rockwell’s character, Victor, to rape her. I never thought you could have a humorous rape sequence, but the role reversal presented here, with the woman demanding and belittling Victor into raping her, is hilarious. The plot travels to some outrageous destinations, my favorite being the idea that Victor is cloned from Jesus Christ’s foreskin. The tone of the film is so light that this idea is pretty much par for the course with the rest of the narrative. I found the multiple flashbacks with Victor and his mom, Ida, played by Angelica Huston to be a bit confusing. It took me awhile to understand their relationship and that Ida was literally kidnapping Victor from his various foster families.
The performances were uniformly excellent, though it wasn’t until a few key scenes that I got behind certain characters. Sam Rockwell has an intensely emotional scene with Angelica Huston in a hospital corridor late in the film. He is battling back tears, asking her to teach him one more thing: how to walk away. It is a very touching moment in a film that is primarily concerned with having a good time. Angelica Huston also has a lot of fun being this deranged mother whose agenda seems to change from moment to moment. I feel like I haven’t seen Huston in a film in a long time and it is nice to see that she has not lost her deft comic touch. Initially, I could not get behind Kelly McDonald’s performance. Her character, Paige, felt meek and strange for strangeness sake. I liked her in No Country for Old Men, but here she felt like she was giving the same performance. However, near the end of the film, there is a big plot twist concerning Paige that explains her behavior and got me right back on board with her. Nice fake-out.Victor’s friends didn’t add much to the film for me. Especially his chronic-masturbating buddy, he just seemed to exist as a sounding board for Victor to bounce his thoughts off of. There was a good Q&A with the director afterwards about how stridently he fought to adapt this book and how he shapes his stories. I found him endearing, heartfelt, and committed to doing good films. He was determined to make this film a funny chronicle of an addict’s recovery. What an admirable goal, especially for those in similar situations. I can imagine it would be nice for people to see an addiction movie set in an absurdist universe, complete with an uplifting outcome. Choke is a fun, boundary-pushing comedy that turns out to be a lot more about addiction and hope than one might initially think.