Friday, June 06, 2008

Choke


"Choke" is a pitch dark comedy that ends up being a romantic comedy of sorts about people with sexual deviance's. It is somewhat the movie that "Good Dick," another film playing in the Sundance at BAM Festival that you can read about here, wanted to be. The only difference is that "Choke" offers terrific performances by everyone, characters that actually earn their eccentricities and a very smart and well written script by actor and first time director Clark Gregg, who also appears in the movie in a small, but memorable, role. 

Sam Rockwell delivers yet another most likely underseen, but great, lead performance (which he seems to be the master of especially after he was completely disregarded after "Snow Angels" was released) plays Victor Mancini, a sex addict whose mother Ida is in the hospital, and thinks that he is one of her long dead lawyers whenever he visits. As a way to pay for her hospital bills, Victor plays off on the sympathies of people that save him from choking to death, something that he has perfected whenever he goes out to restaurants. When his mother, during one of her mental spells, reveals that she has been keeping something from Victor about his father (who he always thought was a Norwegian traveling salesman with Tourettes Syndrome), and he intends to find out what it is. Along with his compulsive masturbator best friend Denny, and the beautiful but possible insane herself Dr. Paige Marshall, Victor intends to find out this family secret before it is too late.

"Choke" is based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, whose work I have never read mostly because of my rather mild disdain for the extreme popularity of "Fight Club" which I'm really not too fond of. Therefore I cannot comment on Clark Gregg's working at adapting the film (although the Palahniuk worshippers in the audience were upset by a few omits that Gregg apparently made-my favorite being this one guy who was upset that he didn't start the movie with the "genius!" opening line of the novel.) However I can say what a fine script I think he wrote here, really making these somewhat un-realistic characters and turning them into such three dimensional characters-of course having a ton of help from the actors themselves. Sam Rockwell really ever disappoints, and from his opening narration at the start-where he explains who each type of person at a sex addicts meeting are-he really does have one hooked. Considering his actions throughout one might be curious to how you can feel bad for such a sordid mess, but you fall for it right away. Angelica Huston is kind of heartbreaking in her role as Ida, and I liked how the script was structured to reveal a bit more about her relationship with Victor and his rather depressing childhood over the course of the movie, sealing it during the last few minutes. Kelly MacDonald (as Clark Gregg said which I agreed with) gives an extremely subtle performance, and it is easy for the audience to really fall for every word that he says, even when certain things in the second act become a little ridiculous. And lastly we have Brad William Henke as Denny who delivers a nicely played 'buddy" role, with a bit more depth than the usual quick witted side kicks that we usually see in less smart films-for example, "Run, Fatboy, Run." 

But the film does have its large share of flaws, and most of them come from Gregg's work as a director. As a writer he proves himself quite worthy, and as an actor (giving himself a small but memorable part in the film) does his job, but some of his directing and editing choices did not please me as much. For one thing, the average shot length isn't very long, and the movie runs with edits like one would see in a sitcom. And I felt like there should have been more at the end of the story that was not addressed, and based on much of the talk after the film I get the vibe that the novel actually does have all the multiple storylines and worlds within the film wrapped up more. I didn't feel like I had closure by the end of the movie, even in the main story that Gregg decides to end on which is the relationship between Victor and Paige. I was wondering what would go on with a stone house that Victor, Denny, and Denny's girlfriend begin to build in a vacant lot. I did find out about an ending that was shot involving the said house, and it would have been quite fitting based on many of the themes of religion that end up running through most of the film. "Choke" runs a lean 89 minutes, but it really seems a bit too lean. There were several unaddressed aspects of the movie that I wish were addressed to make a more tighter narrative.

Is "Choke" a great film? Not at all. Not even close. But it is an absorbing, well acted, very well written, and a very very funny dark comedy about addiction and deviance and what can come of it. There is a rather sick and sad addiction in every character in this film, but all of them rather earn their problems unlike the forced eccentricities of "Good Dick." I really do have faith in the writing of Clark Gregg for the future, and while I may not have agreed with some of his choices as a whole, he did craft an extremely entertaining little movie which is sure to be a big hit when it ends up opening in September, through what he called the "heavenly bosom of Fox Searchlight." And based on their track record, its a very heavenly place to be indeed.

*** of ****

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