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Hilda Van Lill
Sex addict and colonial theme park worker, Victor Mancini, has devised a complicated scam to pay for his mom's hospital bills while she suffers from an Alzheimer's disease that hides the truth about his childhood. He pretends to choke on food in a restaurant and the person who "saves" him will feel responsible for Victor for the rest of their lives. Written by
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Not perfect, but Rockwell shines in this fairly well adapted raunchy tale
Choke tells the story of Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a sex addict working in a colonial times reproduction. His mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), suffers from dementia, and spends most of her time thinking Victor is someone else (mainly long dead lawyers) during his frequent visits to the hospital. To pay the bills, Mancini has a bit of a unique talent: he chokes on food in swanky restaurants, and practically forces innocent bystanders into saving him from death.
I read the book Choke a few years ago, thinking it would be same in vain to writer Chuck Palahniuk's near flawless Fight Club (and of course, David Fincher's incredible film). But Choke was nothing like it, and anyone going to see the film thinking it will be is in for a disappointment.
But like Fight Club before it, Choke is adapted quite well from its raunchy source material. The story is quite liberally changed in some instances, but in others, it is an almost literal recreation. Mancini is a well-rounded character, with bizarrely comic traits that are pure Palahniuk. I found myself almost crying from laughing so hard at the comic mishappenings he got himself into, frequently calling back to the events in the book. It was strange however that so little an amount of time is spent on the choking that Mancini has down practically to an art form, but then its off-the-rails, frank portrayal of sex was always much stronger. First-time director Clark Gregg does an excellent job making this character so true to Palahniuk's work that you can forgive him for glossing off something so integral to the plot (but at least it makes for a whole lot less convoluted, confusing and downright silly third act). Gregg's addition of the little idiosyncrasies of Mancini's lifestyle (small cuts to previous sexual encounters, frequent breast-filled day dreams) only further strengthens how close the film cuts to its source material.
But despite being 92 minutes long, I think Gregg could have done with a touch more editing. The film is not lengthy at all (many sequences practically zip by in the hyper-kinetic sense of Fight Club before it), but the film feels quite long in some instances. Despite their importance to the story, the flashback sequences involving a much younger looking Huston and young Victor (playing by Jonah Bobo) drag on endlessly, nearly losing their train of thought mid-scene. Some of the scenes between Mancini and Ida's doctor, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), also have a habit of dragging their heels. Some cuts here and there in these scenes could have only benefited the film. As well, Gregg's doing away with the third act leaves some subplots hanging in the balance, never to fully integrate themselves with the film as a whole. Non-readers may not even notice some of them (including one glaring omission), but it may strike those who have read it as quite odd.
The supporting cast is pretty well rounded. Macdonald does a great job in her scenes, as do Bijou Phillips in a small role as one of Mancini's co-workers, and Gregg himself as the lead character in the colonial times reproduction. I had failed to realize it was him when watching the film, but he brings a special greatness to every one of his character's lines.
I was a little disappointed however in Brad William Henke's portrayal of Mancini's friend Denny however. Not because Henke does a bad job in the role, but because he does not get nearly enough time on screen. He steals many of his scenes, and seems to know just how to frame Denny, frequently shifting from the downtrodden weakling of a sidekick, to the strong willed individual Mancini wishes he could be. Henke is having fun in the goofy role, and it is obvious that he is very comfortable doing it. He does not have a whole lot of credits on his filmography, but I can only help this role makes him a lot more accessible in Hollywood. More scenes could have only reinforced the notion.
Huston, looking much older than usual for the majority of the film, is excellent in her portrayal of Ida. She does not look to be doing much, but the emotions she conveys simply through her facial movements and expressions is enough to suggest that she is doing more than simply phoning in her performance. The role may not seem too tough, but she pulls it off without breaking a sweat. Despite disliking the flashback scenes, they only further developed her character into the closet psycho she is so great at playing.
But the movie rests on Rockwell's shoulders, and he is clearly up to the task. The breath of life he gives Victor Mancini is almost poetic in how personal it looks and sounds. No, he does not give the same energy that Brad Pitt does as Tyler Durdan, but this does not seem to bother Rockwell in the least. He plays Mancini just the way he needs to in order to make him a believable regular guy, suffering from addiction problems and his need to please his overbearing mother even as she is slowly withering away. You can see the pain in his face right from minute one, and never once does he let us take this idealism for granted. He uses it and characterizes Mancini with a great breadth of thought not regularly seen in contemporary American cinema.
While it is not perfect at all, Choke is a wonderfully valiant attempt at recapturing the nearly demented nature of a Palahniuk book. His unique voice is captured quite fluidly within the film, and writer/director Gregg can be quite proud of his work here. With the help of a great supporting cast, Rockwell practically lights up the screen in a way that only further proves his greatness as an actor.
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