Blue Bayou (2021)
Blue Bayou (2021)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: September 17th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Justin Chon Actors: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Emory Cohen, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Sydney Kowalske, Linh Dan Pham

 


 

K

orean-American Antonio LaBlanc (Justin Chon) struggles to find work near his hometown, about an hour north of Baton Rouge. With a baby on the way, adding to his family, which consists of wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and her outspoken young daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), he’s in need of an additional job. Shifts at a tattoo parlor just aren’t enough. But the two felonies he has for motorcycle theft interfere with the interview process at a mechanic shop – as well as the subtle racism exuded from questions about where he’s really from and how he obtained his notably French last name (through adoption).

From the very first lines of dialogue, the script sounds incredibly authentic, as if improvised on the spot, particularly by the various denizens of the tattoo business, poking fun at one another with decidedly colorful language. Paired with plenty of handheld cinematography, “Blue Bayou” paints an intimate picture, digging deep into the inner workings of a close-knit family to expose a plethora of truths, ranging from the joyous moments of playing with a funnily precocious child to the ugliness of outsider mentality that threatens livelihoods on the basis of ethnicity. And the sense of belonging, of being American, soon clashes mightily with those harboring the fear of others.

“We can’t afford it.” Antonio’s journey is fraught with conflicts, not only those put upon him by corrupt people in power – including Jessie’s biological father, New Orleans policeman Ace Cooper (Mark O’Brien), and his violent partner Denny Clark (Emory Cohen), commonplace yet suitable antagonists – but also those of a certain level of poverty and of targeting by cruel legal loopholes, such as one that results in a Deportation Order by ICE. Despite living in the U.S. for 30 years and having no connection to South Korea, Antonio’s world is suddenly thrown into upheaval, as he’s forced to choose between voluntarily leaving the country or staying and fighting his case, expensively, in court.

With few resources and fewer friends to turn to in his time of need, Antonio is stuck in quite the dilemma – one that proves to be highly cinematic and heartbreakingly realistic. In line with the genuineness of the dialogue is the abundance of procedural and social hurdles, each adding to the moving nature of littler sequences that scream of natural, down-to-earth interactions (as well as overwhelming moments of loving families and welcoming communities), from simple acts of eating food to pastoral reminiscence. Marginally larger-than-life characters do turn up, but they’re quickly overcome by the potency of hugely sympathetic and likable personas, such as low-key immigration lawyer Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and Vietnamese-American woman Parker Nguyen (Linh-Dan Pham), who exhibits a brand of kindness that plays exceptionally well onscreen. Character construction here is in rare, phenomenal form, oftentimes using nothing but expressions and tears to convey striking messages.

Playing out in some ways like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Precious,” piling on tragedy after tragedy, wearying argument after argument, and numbing revelation after revelation, the film eventually reaches some exasperating emotional levels that threaten to demolish one of the most heartwarming of familial setups. Yet if audiences can push past the tremendous anguish and grief, the story itself is remarkably timely and compelling. But most of all, it’s the main characters and their relationships (and performances) that are most rewarding, even if the finale mostly sacrifices sentimental satisfaction for sobering realism and incredibly unbelievable timing – the one significant moment that “Blue Bayou” is clearly a movie, fashioned around an obviously manufactured scene for the sake of a pertinent entreaty.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10