Choke


Year 2002

Sam Rockwell as   Victor Mancini
Anjelica Huston as Ida J. Mancini
Brad William Henke   as Denny
Joel Grey   as Phil
 
Director - Clark Gregg
Screenwriter - Clark Gregg  
Novelist - Chuck Palahniuk  

A man who is very mixed up due to mother issues is the central character in Choke. Victor Mancini (Rockwell) has a strange mother. She is a fringe dwelling paranoid but she is still his mother and when she has to be institutionalized, he pays for her medical costs in a unique way. While dining out, he chokes on his meal. He doesn't just pretend to choke, he actually goes so far as to get a piece of food stuck in his windpipe. Victor found out that there is a correlation between the Good Samaritan who saves his life when he's choking and their willingness to give him money long after the life saving act.

According to the movie, the people who save his life when choking somehow feel responsible for him later. He writes the people letters sometimes mentioning that he needs money and they send it to him. Sometimes it's only a little, but they send it. It's a system he has and there are dozens of people he's pulled this on.

At least the money goes to a good cause, the care of his mother. But Victor isn't a good person. He's a sexual addict. Any woman at any time is good enough for him. He attends Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meetings to get better. (He shows up and goes off with one of the girls, but he's trying.) Victor's best friend is Denny (Henke) a recovering sex addict. This is all typical Palahniuk.

Ah, yes. Chuck Palahniuk, the man who brought you Fight Club which just happens to be one of greatest movies ever made. Palahniuk has a thing for support group meetings. In Fight Club it was cancer support groups. In Choke it's the SAA. I think that Palahniuk attends these meetings for writing material. Too many of the episodes in his novels, regardless of how weird they are, ring true.

I don't know whether I'm a Palaniuk fan, although I've read some of his novels. I even read Choke a few years ago. I remember that it wasn't as good as Fight Club but it wasn't too bad. It has to be tough for an author to strike it so big on his maiden voyage. How do you surpass that first effort? I'm sure that Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye) had a problem meeting expectations after their relative early in their career blockbuster achievement. It's a credit to Palahniuk that he keeps trying although he is tending toward shock rather than plot development as he matures.

Back to Choke. The movie starts wonderfully. Characters, situations, and humor grab you immediately. Unfortunately, this doesn't last long and the freshness disappears to be replaced with a "made for television" feel. I blame this on two things. One is the editing. Scenes and music ends without any blending. It really is a "do this, do that, okay we're done" approach. There is little in the way of spirit to this movie. It's a tough book to film, and the movie loses its point of view.

The second thing is the acting. It's not bad but there's a little too much mugging by Rockwell. He's like Dana Carvey from Saturday Night Live. Some scenes could almost be SNL skits. He's not quite Victor but rather someone playing at being Victor but wanting to be entertaining. It comes off rather badly sometimes.

Then there are the differences between the book and the movie. Some things that I don't remember from the book are the expanded roles of Lord High Charlie (Gregg) and Cherry Daiquiri (Gillian Jacobs). I liked the expansion of the roles actually. But if they were added at the expense of some of the scenes from the book, then they should not have been added. The book is about Victor and his problems. Especially about his problems with his mother Ida (Huston).

Palahniuk goes back to his theme of how parents can create crazy children in Choke. But the scenes that show how messed up Ida is and how she also messed up Victor are missing from the movie. They were filmed and are part of the deleted scenes, but they aren't in the movie which is a great disservice to the theme of the movie.

Also missing from the movie, but included in the deleted scenes, is the confrontation at the vacant lot between Victor and all of the people that he duped by getting them to save his life when choking. For Victor to heal he must:

The book takes Victor lower than the movie does. They're covered in the deleted scenes. Step four of the SAA is talked about a lot but there is no indication in the movie of what this is or why Victor is avoiding it. Big miss. Eventually, I think Victor may start it, but it's unclear.

As for his mother, see my earlier comments about things missing from the novel. Heck, even the reason why he started doing the choking routine in the first place didn't make the final cut of the movie. The same is true for making peace with his past. The last part about trying for a non-physical relationship with a girl is in the movie - Palahniuk style.

The movie is usually true to the book and the book was pretty funny. So is the movie. Victor is a character in a historical re-enactment park. His mother prefers to think of him as a "tour guide" because it has more dignity. There are theme park scenes that are lampooned well.

There's lots of brief nudity in the movie. Victor either fantasizes about every new woman he meets or he's having a flashback about how he's already had sex with them. It's not arousing, but it is brief nudity.

It's not a bad movie and if you can live with Clark Gregg's sitcom direction and the sterile editing, it might be worth checking out especially if you like Chuck Palahniuk. Then, read the novel. It's better than the movie.

Oh, there's a bit about how Victor didn't have a real father. His mother was impregnated using a relic of Christ's foreskin. When this gets out at the care center where his mother is, a lot of people try and turn Victor into the son of the Messiah. But, this serves the movie and is not just a throw away gag for the sake of blasphemy. When people's view of Victor changes, Victor also changes.

There's nudity, profanity, and blasphemy. I wouldn't recommend it as chick flick unless a woman is really open to new ways of seeing people around her. It does have lots of chick flick potential if a girl meets the previous criterion. It's also pretty deep and fairly well nuanced despite the seeming frivolity of it.


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