by Eric Sloss, Writer
Chuck Palahniuk is a provocative writer. His novels have inspired people to take action in their lives. Other people have taken his novels too literally. They have created groups where the sole point of membership is to pummel each other. Clearly they missed the point of Palahniuk arguing against the growing seed of commercialism. His first published novel was of course “Fight Club”. It won several awards and a Hollywood movie was made out of it. The movie was a box office disappointment, but it grew a large cult following after its release on video. Now comes the film “Choke”. It too was adapted from a Palahniuk novel.
In the previous film and in this film, support groups play a major role in the proceedings. Here the realm is sex addicts instead of testicular cancer survivors. Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, a colonial recreator who had a turbulent childhood. He bounced around from foster home to foster home. His mother (Anjelica Huston) takes him from these homes from time to time and they go on adventures across the country. Some of these ventures included illegal activities. Because of these experiences, Victor never developed healthy relationships with women. This led to his sex addiction and the various support groups.
The title of the movie refers to Victor’s habit to choke in a restaurant, so he can be rescued by a wealthy patron. He then sends these people phony medical bills and he cons them out of money. Victor does this mostly to take care of his mother who is in a nursing home suffering from dementia. Rockwell has played shady characters with aplomb. It is no different here. The audience can relate somewhat to Victor because Rockwell injects some humanity into the performance. You may be repelled by some of the things he does, but you can never truly hate Victor.
Those expecting the darker and more cynical hues of “Fight Club” will be disappointed in this film. The comedy is more out front in “Choke”. It is much lighter in tone. Even though there are copious amounts of nudity and sexual acts, the movie isn’t titillating. Many of those scenes are played for laughs. Sometimes Victor imagines having sex with characters (such as nuns) or body types that you normally don’t see in film.
Victor is joined in addiction and at his work place by his buddy Denny (Brad William Henke). Henke and Rockwell have good chemistry while on screen. Denny at times is the voice of reason for Victor. The theme of family interestingly enough propels this movie throughout. Victor tries to reconnect with his mother and understand where he came from. There are funny bits regarding Victor’s birth that need to be seen and heard to be enjoyed. The screenwriter and director of “Choke”, Clark Gregg, also has some nice scenes as the so called leader of the colonial park.
In his visits with his mother, Victor comes across a nurse played by Kelly Macdonald. Macdonald plays the character with an equal amount of warmth and desperation at the same time. Her methods are unconventional and quite funny. Her plan to save Victor’s mother is another highlight to look for.
Even with the adult subject matter, the movie does always revolve around Victor and his mother. Huston does a good job showing the confusion and pain that dementia brings to a person. The flashbacks with Victor as a youth makes it painfully clear that his mother caused much of the problems that he is facing in his adult life.
Like with “Fight Club” there are surprises to be had. They aren’t earth shattering or extreme as shown in “Fight Club”, but a bit more digestible in the grand scheme of things. “Choke” is a good comedy that has some touching moments mixed in with the filth. It isn’t as biting in social commentary as “Fight Club”, but it was never intended to be. All four leads (Rockwell, Henke, Houston, Macdonald) are winning in their performances.
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke, Jonah Bobo, Clark Gregg