Notorious C.H.O. (2002)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2002 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)

There are those who love Margaret Cho and there are those, I suspect, who don't.

Most of the former kind can be seen filing into a Seattle theater at the beginning of "Notorious C.H.O," where the lovably profane comedienne's latest performance film was shot (by director Lorene Machado). These are the type of fans who can be heard doubling over with laughter whenever Cho, the Korean-American stand-up comedienne with the short-lived TV series ("All-American Girl"), pulls a funny face, says something racy, or does a dead-on impersonation of her mother (so popular is that, in fact, that she dedicates her entire encore to talking about the time Mummy fell off a camel, replete with scrunched up face, high-pitched whine, and a deliciously near-incomprehensible accent--I have to admit her doing Mum is my favorite bit too. Mrs. Cho can drag the word "gay" out for about 14 seconds!).

     I'm in the third camp myself, i.e., those who find Margaret Cho to be
amusing, yet mostly grating.

Taking up where her previous performance film (2000's "I'm the One That I Want") left off, "Notorious C.H.O." features the self-appointed bi-sexual overweight fag hag (and a minority to boot!) pontificating on similar "taboo" subjects--sex, drugs, homophobia, mothers, eating disorders, gays, all the way back to sex again. If you've seen "I'm the One..." you probably don't need to see this one (and vice-versa, although "I'm the One That I Want" spent more time detailing Cho's unfortunate experiences on her ill-fated sitcom so it's more interesting from that perspective).

In her new film, Cho touches on some of the same material but for the most part the piece is another successful grab bag of humorous reflections, a lot of them fairly graphic (if you're at all offended by explicit sexual descriptions then you might want to avoid this one). If anything the film is probably funnier than the first because it's structured less as a focused monologue punctuated by funny asides and more a long-running series of humorous anecdotes--her experiences in a sex club (S&M worshippers are "really bossy," apparently), her experiences at an L.A. colonics clinic (don't ask), what if straight men had periods, where to find the elusive G-spot, and how her lesbian lover, if she got to pick one, would look like John Goodman, for example.

Cho can definitely work an audience yet, as with her previous one-woman show, the audience is all too often asked to react to her contorted face for several minutes at a time. There are those who need that time to wipe the tears of laughter from their eyes, of course, but there are others who, after several seconds, start wondering where to look. Her tired political viewpoints are more muted this time around, and there are only a few moments towards the end of the show when Cho gets serious. But overall Margaret Cho is impressively on in "Notorious C.H.O.," moving quickly, pausing briefly for sips of water, keeping her audience happy.

Although Cho's appearance hasn't improved much with age (get yourself a costume designer next time Margaret, or at least wear Levis and a flannel shirt that *fit*), her material certainly has.

Don't get to the theater late, however. There's a cartoon short before the main film featuring a cut-out Cho, her African-American friend, and (you guessed it) Cho's mother (all with real lips superimposed) in an hysterical skit featuring, of all things, Funyuns, those crunchy snacks with the real onion taste!

David N. Butterworth

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