Screenwriter: Clark Gregg
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke
Running Time: 92 mins
Chuck Palahniuk has every right to be delighted with Hollywood's treatment of his novels. Fight Club and this week's Choke are both outstanding adaptations of his original works - respectfully translated to the medium of film and retaining the writer's urgent, nihilistic style. Choke is equally punctuated with Palahniuk's distinct and subversive voice as its David Fincher-helmed predecessor.
It stars Sam Rockwell as Victor Mancine, a sex addict who works as a tour guide for a Colonial theme park. To raise cash to treat his mentally ill mother, he dines in plush restaurants, deliberately chokes on his food, then preys on the pity of those who save him for financial reward. Victor is a contradictory force - he's pathetic, self-obsessed and misanthropic, but he's also witty, romantic and looks out for (to say he cares for might be a little strong) his mother and best friend Denny (Henke). He is Choke's antihero, a crumbling Casanova.
The novel has been described as "Fight Club for sex addicts", and while that statement has some validity, it's a quick sound bite that doesn't fully touch on the thematic crossover. Like Edward Norton's unnamed Fight Club narrator, Victor is cast adrift and looking to connect with people through support groups, lamenting the decay of American society through an emotionally detached voice-over.
Cosmetically the two works are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Fincher's film is incendiary and visually arresting, watching it is akin to going ten rounds with Tyler Durden. Clark Gregg, a first-time helmer, has constructed a gentler film in Choke, reflecting an underlying romanticism you wouldn't expect from a social satire driven by addiction and self-asphyxiation.
Victor's union with his mother Ida (Huston), a frail and fading radical, and Paige (Macdonald), a doctor at the mental institution, builds the heart of the film. Call it Spielberg syndrome, but Hollywood has a tendency to push stories about fathers and sons. It's a welcome departure to see such a well-rounded film about a relationship between a mother and her son. Rockwell in particular gets to play the gamut of emotions, and his adeptness for drama, comedy and Nic Cage-style weirdness makes you wonder why he isn't yet a huge movie star. If this performance doesn't propel him to the A-list then probably nothing else will.
Being a Palahniuk adaptation, Choke is populated by offbeat oddities. Victor's search for his father, involving the foreskin of Christ, threatens to push the story into absurdity, while his boss (played by Gregg) only breaks from 18th century Colonial speak when he catches Victor in a compromising situation with the object of his lust.
Choke is a comedy that thrives on leaping over lines of acceptable taste and decency. Laugh out louds moments come from a rape role-playing scene and a dense stripper changing her hair colour after discovering that blondes are more susceptible to skin cancer. However, beneath its caustic, taboo-shattering exterior is a warm, hopeful core and a love story more touching than any factory-line rom-com in recent memory.
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