Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
Release Date: September 26th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Clark Gregg Actors: Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald, Anjelica Huston, Brad William Henke, Paz de la Huerta, Bijou Phillips, Joel Grey, Gillian Jacobs, Heather Burns
n extreme exploration of sexual deviancy, compulsions, and abnormalities, “Choke” manages to be thought-provoking and challenging even while assaulting the senses and overstepping the boundaries of good taste. It dwells on oddities to make the story unpredictable, instead of presenting eccentricities just for the sake of being weird or to exploit the nature of its sexual content. This darkly humorous work also features outstanding performances by a sharp cast, capable of transforming perversely shocking and hilariously vulgar explanations of self-destruction into poignant moments of redemption.
To pay for an expensive hospital room for his mother Ida (Angelica Huston), who can no longer even recognize her own son, Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) frequently pretends to choke during meals at expensive restaurants. Planning to be saved by the wealthiest patron present, he then parasitically feeds on their heroism and sympathies for the life they think they’ve saved. Conning his rescuers through letters and updates on his salvation (renewing the “savior experience” as he calls it), he continually receives additional funds to use for his ailing mom.
While not pulling his scam, Victor works at a Colonial Williamsburg theme park (along the lines of a Renaissance Festival) where he portrays the backbone of America – an Irish indentured servant. Along with his best friend Denny (Brad William Henke), he also finds time to cruise sexual addiction recovery meetings to look for quick action. But when his mother slips deeper into derangement, he seeks out murky truths about his childhood with the help of the mysterious Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald).
As Victor narrates his piteous existence, he teeters toward becoming the most unordinary – perhaps downright despicable – of cinematic misfits, yet he ends up serving as a worthy antihero and the least insane resident in a world of aberrance. In the realm of “Choke,” even the nuns are scum. Although a med-school dropout, a man with few morals, and an addict with an insatiable lust for meaningless sex, Victor still manages to be a multilayered persona of moderate respectability. To the film’s credit, his regular indecencies melt away during moments of reflection and revelations, largely thanks to Rockwell’s onscreen charms. Well-placed flashbacks also provide steady insight on Victor’s unfavorably anomalistic childhood, unearthing a rare purity only temporarily forgotten in a now corrupted paladin.
The narcissism and peculiarities of the characters in “Choke” account for much of the off-color humor, which stays consistent to supplement the even darker bits of drama and romance. Although its target audience might be slim, the success of writer Chuck Palahniuk’s only other theatrically adapted story, “Fight Club,” might boost interest in this highly original production, directed with precision by Clark Gregg, who also has a small role in the film. The similarities between the two storylines are limited, aside from the quirky dialogue, fetishistic tendencies, and the frequenting of rehabilitation workshops, but the idea that the most twisted or tormented minds can eventually produce sound satisfaction as unlikely heroes is a testament to hysterically morbid plots receiving the big screen treatment.
– Mike Massie