From the pages of Chuck Palahniuk’s gritty 2001 novel right to the silver screen we have Writer/Director/Actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut with the dark sex comedy Choke starring who else but oddball character actor Sam Rockwell.
With an idea concocted from the man who found success with the infamously popular novel Fight Club, of course followed by the cult favorite film. I wouldn’t be surprised if many “Palahniacs” had some pretty high expectations for this latest adaptation, despite the fact that popular books are so very rarely surpassed by their cinematic counterparts. So I can understand how some fans have already given this is a lukewarm reception, but if your one of those few who have the ability to judge without comparison to the source material, then this indie flick just might be worth your time… That is if you like dirty, explicit, and off-the-wall dark comedies.
Now I’ve never read any of Palahniuk’s novels, nor did I care for the 1999 movie Fight Club so for starters I think that gives me a fairly unbiased point of view. I wont be sitting there telling the guy next to me “That’s not how they did it in the book” or “I wish they’d done this more like the Fight Club movie” so I went in with a pretty open mind. “What motivated you to see it?” you may ask, well I’d probably say it was due to my soft spot for Sam Rockwell who truly is the driving force of this film.
So Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, a pathetic and sarcastic sex addict that basically any average slob could sympathize with. Working as a “Historical Interpreter”, Victor supports his mother’s (Anjelica Huston) pricey hospital bills by conning rich folks… How does he do that? By “choking” of course in fancy restaurants. Yes he purposely chokes on his food, waiting for a wealthy looking person to save him and then afterwards send his savior a “thank you” letter that just happens to mention some of his troubles regarding supposed medical expenses. Thus out of sympathy and pity these people send him money. Kind of tough to explain and maybe even “hard to swallow?” but it’s actually a funny and unique concept and Victor actually makes for a fairly interesting character. Though his world couldn’t be complete without being surrounded by some equally strange characters in Victor’s pervert best friend Denny (Brad William Henke), Denny’s stripper girlfriend and Victor’s love interest played by Kelly Macdonald.
Choke maybe mostly a dark sex comedy with all it’s dirty jokes and racy sequences but I think there’s some nice drama going on here too. Victor’s troubled relationship with his mentally ill mother gives this greasy film a heart and some of the numerous flashbacks with Victor and his mother are actually kind of sweet, though they are surprisingly numerous. I like that this film tries to keep balanced and even though it didn’t always grab me it was definitely a noble effort.
My main problem with Choke came near the end of the film. Where the first half the story travels a steady pattern, revealing plot points with a nice comic flow, the film begins to feel clunky in the last 10 or so minutes. Were suddenly hit with a whole slew of facts and twists and frankly too much info. Now this may of worked if the film was a little longer, you could of spread that stuff out, but it’s tough to get the impact of a 293 page novel in 89 minutes. It was a respectable attempt especially for a first time filmmaker, but perhaps it wasn’t quite meant to be, at least not yet.
So I can only assume that “Palahniacs” as I like to call them will be disappointed. I guess if we can learn anything from this experience it’s that you should always read the book after you see the movie. You don’t want to go in with too lofty of expectations, I mean that’s the main reason I couldn’t enjoy The Prestige I liked the book too much thus felt biased against the film’s differing decisions. It be a tough mistress in the world of adapted screenplays.
P.S. While watching the movie Peter opened a bag of M&M’s and it exploded all over the theater and the audience was like “Ahh man” but I think they sympathized. It looked embarrasing but it was pretty hilarious.