To be honest, I can’t think of a whole lot to write about when it comes to Clark Gregg’s directorial debut, Choke so it’ll probably be a short one today. I think that in itself says something about what I think of the movie.
Not that it’s all that bad, per se. But for all of its incendiary scenes and filthy dialogue and fun performances, the parts don’t seem to add up to much at all. I’m not sure if I can even come up with much of a synopsis for the movie because the whole thing runs so episodically. There’s no real story here to hang a hat on, something I believe that carries from the original novel.
An adaptation of a Chuck Palahniuk novel, Sam Rockwell plays a sex addicted con man with a mother in the mental hospital and he falls for her doctor. That’s basically the entire narrative of the story that runs through. Well that and Rockwell trying to find out who his real father is.
It all comes across as a pastiche of elements for an interesting character arc but not much more than that. Each part works and individual scenes work great but there never seems to be a defining whole and I never got a sense of what the movie is trying to say overall.
Rockwell is amazing, as usual. Rockwell is rarely off his game and, luckily, this movie gives him plenty to play with. What Rockwell does so well here, in fact what the whole movie’s greatest strength is, is how it briskly and smoothly maneuvers between such filthy jokes and situations to moments of real drama and emotion. Rockwell is at times both desperately sad and uproariously hilarious jumping from moment to moment in the film.
The brisk handling of tone and jumping from one situation to another never calls attention to itself. The entire movie runs smoothly from each incident but it’s the faults in the script that never make it feel cohesive enough as a feature film.
The film also runs fairly drab. The visuals never pop in the film and seems to run dry, which is in direct conflict with the stylized dialogue and story being told. The film almost begs to be more dynamic in visual terms but instead moves in staid terms. It feels like the movie’s being shot for a completely different type of movie and just doesn’t feel right for the material given.
Kelly Macdonald plays the love interest and does the job amicably. It’s not a difficult role and she can do it in her sleep and almost seems like she does at points, although that could be on purpose considering the things that happen around her character later on. Angelica Huston plays the mother and is fantastic as usual, especially in the flashback scenes where it shows her kidnapping her own son from foster care. Brad William Henke plays the chubby best friend also with a sexual compulsion, in this case constant masturbation. Besides the accomplishment of making habitual masturbation an endearing character trait, he doesn’t really have much else going for him except the chubby best friend. Towards the end, he finds a kind of happiness with a stripper and some kind of rock project, almost finding a kind of enlightenment that escapes his friend. It works but it all feels like it comes out of nowhere.
Of course, the movie is the Sam Rockwell show and there’s a lot for his character in there. Rockwell’s character also has a scam where he fakes choking at ritzy restaurants in order to get rich patrons to save his life and then they send him money every so often afterwards, feeling responsible for his life. That’s another area where the film is very clever. In how it ties all these disparate elements of his life from this choking con to the sexual compulsions to his feelings towards his mother and the way he wants to feel comforted and cared for, something he was never able to receive when he was a child.
Another aspect is the missing father equation, which leads to strange side roads such as when the character believes himself to be the half cloned spawn of Jesus Christ. It’s these strange character revealing side roads where it shows how we label ourselves as good or bad, and who we truly reveal ourselves to be that it becomes a much more interesting film but it constantly drifts from one point to the other without pinning anything down.
As you can see, the film doesn’t suffer from a lack of themes or things that it has to say. The problem is the film has no new ways of telling its story beyond what is given. Besides a strong Sam Rockwell performance, many of these beats and themes can be found in the novel and the problem with the film is it doesn’t give a reason for it to exist. While it’s a funny, clever movie with a lot there but it mostly feels like a movie for people who don’t want to have the headaches of actually reading the book. As a directorial debut, it’s quite good and I look forward to seeing what else Gregg has up his sleeve, I just hope he has more of himself to put in rather than paring down an already great piece of work.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Well, for now, I guess.