Choke (Clark Gregg, USA, 2008)
Choke is actor Clark Gregg's writer-directorial debut, with a screen adaptation of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club). I suspect that connection will draw many people to see Choke, but really they're very different films. First, Clark Gregg is not David Fincher, secondly this is a very different story.
Apparently, the story is semi-autobiographical, but I don't intend to go into the details of what parts are autobiographical, which are metaphorical, and which represent the experiences of those close to Palahniuk. I don't find it particularly relevant, but if you're interested, you can Google that yourself (or check out this article in The Age).
There's a lot happening in Choke, and the film attempts to get around this by depending too heavily on Rockwell's voiceover narration. It might have worked well with Edward Norton in Fight Club, but seems both a bit heavy-handed here and it detracts from the coherence. What the... ? The whole point of narration is to improve coherence, a shortcut alternative to depicting everything on-screen by relaying a character's thoughts.
I found the film a little disappointing. It looks good, it sounds good, the acting is good (Sam Rockwell is always good value, and the rest of the cast is also fine). The story is quirky, and to some, that could be code for where the film doesn't work.
The quirkiness factor comes in right from the start with just too many competing themes that feel forced (à la Little Miss Sunshine). There's the sex-addiction, and the attendance at group therapy sessions (a good place to get laid, apparently). Then there's the heritage theme park where Rockwell's character, Victor, plays a part alongside his best pal, Denny (a charismatic Brad William Henke), also a sex addict. There's the ruse Victor pulls in restaurants, pretending to choke, in order to get the sympathy of strangers. There's the descent into dementia by Victor's mother (Anjelica Huston), who may hold the key to some mysteries about Victor's identity. And there's the complexity that Paige Marshall (well-acted by Kelly Macdonald) brings in the form of a potential love interest.
On the surface, that's a lot of ground to cover, and Gregg does a not too bad job as first-time director. I'm sure a lot of people will find this film a lot more enjoyable than I did; the success of films like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine is testament to that. For me, there were many elements that in isolation may have been good, but didn't come together successfully as a whole. The editing of the film may be at least partially to blame, but ultimately, Gregg has been a little too ambitious and hasn't quite succeeded in sewing all the bits together as well as he intended. There's a twist at the end that I found a little weak and conventional, but I'm not giving that away. To the film's credit - and you'd expect this from a Palahniuk story - it's unconventional.
Choke opens on October 30.