PLOT: Victor Mancini is doing his very best to get by. His mother is sickly and he struggles to pay her medical bills so she is well taken care of. It all consists of a carefully planned choking accident at a local restaurant. Once he finds the right person, he lodges something in his throat and makes his way to the intended hero, hoping they will save him. When they do, they seem to feel obligated to help him financially. And when Victor is not having fun with food, he is having fun with every woman he can. It is one mans search for his own meaning that he never found with his warped mother-son relationship.
You know what is most interesting about the characters living in Chuck Palahniuks world? They are not writers. They are usually people who are either working in an office, or aging porn stars or maybe even an actor at a colonial-era theme park. There is never a sense that youve seen that particular person before. And because of this, his stories are much more fascinating. They are truthful, dark and lurid because for some reason, no matter how exaggerated, they feel like real people. With Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), he not only works at the previously mentioned historical theme park, he also has other ways of paying for his mothers medical bills. While at a restaurant, he takes a large bite of his food with the sole purpose of choking. Once he is in that helpless situation, he targets someone that may take pity on him and save his life. After all, when you save someones life, you do feel a sense of attachment as it were. Once he is saved, he is held in their arms as tears stream down his face, the bond is made. From this, he has found a way to bilk people out of their hard earned dollars. Could this happen? Im pretty sure that this man exists.
Now I loved FIGHT CLUB. I mean really loved it. It felt like it had all the layers of perversity, self hate, redemption and a bunch of testosterone fueled violence. It seemed to represent the moral decay and the (possible?) enlightenment found in that realization. With this, I start with what didnt work for me in the latest Palahniuk adaptation. I found myself just slightly disappointed in Clark Greggs cinematic version of CHOKE. There is a sense of realism found here that I dont think was necessarily a part of FIGHT CLUB, but it also felt a bit too safe. We are dealing with a con-artist who also happens to be a sex addict and seems to find pleasure in f*cking any girl he can find. It all seems to be making up for the pathetic relationship he shared with his mother as a child. While the film certainly earns its R-rating, it felt like a few more risks could have been taken. With this story I wanted to see all the filth and all the self disgust that Victor lives with. Even his chronically masturbating best bud Denny (Brad William Henke) could have been just a little creepier he is actually a really nice character that happens to suddenly shove his hand down his pants and jack off.
Yet, Gregg does something that youd never expect. He makes his characters all quite likeable and a little bit sad. There is a sweetness in their sorrow. While it is not grim and wadding through mud, it is still able to bring about the themes that Chuck inspired. For starters, Sam Rockwell is always good in roles like this. Although his best performance as of late was the ridiculously underappreciated SNOW ANGELS, he is well cast here. As his best friend, Henke gives a warm and quirky performance to the chronic masturbating machine. You can see the loyalty and faith he has in his best bud Victor. Possibly my favorite moment is when Denny convinces Victors sickly and delusional mom that he is in fact her son. This was a beautiful and painfully touching moment that didnt lose sight of the humor. And speaking of mom, the great Anjelica Huston is what makes the film work as well as it does. She is sexy, smart, cunning and one of the most intriguing characters Ive seen this year. My favorite moments include her and Victor as a boy (played by Jonah Bobo, who is also very good). She toughens him up and denies him the chance to stop at a local playground and just be a kid. This really is a wonderful dynamic and it is brilliantly explored by Mr. Gregg.
I was having a rough time finding the right grade to give CHOKE. While I really felt that the story should have been much muddier than it was, I do feel that the back-story of Victor and his mum was incredibly touching. While the sex-addiction, the choking habit and all the misguided hopes for salvation seemed to be treated a bit too carefully (although it does take a lot to shock me), the heart of the story is well told by Gregg and crew. Most importantly, he had the good sense to cast Ms. Huston in this challenging and complex role. It makes the final outcome that much more surprising. I really appreciate his take on Palahniuk, not so much as a deep, dark place of self discovery, more as a heartfelt journey with some dark elements thrown in. The comedy works, the drama works, and while I felt there was a lack of grime, it still ultimately works. My rating 7/10 -- JimmyO
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...