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“I definitely did not touch your woo-woo!” — Josh Reviews Choke

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addict who works at Colonial Dunsboro, an 18th-century re-enactment village.  He’s also a con-man whose routine is to pretend he is choking in a restaurant and then befriend the person who rescues him, ultimately hitting that unsuspecting “hero” up for a handout.  Oh yes, and after reading the diaries of his dying mother, he begins to suspect that he might be a clone of Jesus Christ.  Or, at least, a half-clone.

What a marvelously bizarre movie!!

At this point I’ve become convinced that I will watch Sam Rockwell in anything.  I first noticed him in Galaxy Quest, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has become one of my favorite movies.  He’s even great is smallish supporting roles, as he was in Frost/Nixon.  The energetic way in which Rockwell embodies Victor gives this film its life.  Adapted from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), the movie could very easily have become a dour, joyless affair.  But Rockwell’s Victor is just so entertaining to watch, even when he is being a total jackass, that he carries the viewer without any complaint through some of the movie’s rougher patches.  

The supporting cast is equally phenomenal.  Brad William Henke (currently wondering what lies in the shadow of the statue on Lost) is hysterical as Victor’s somewhat dim friend Denny.  Anjelica Houston’s performance here reminds me of the similarly mysterious and flawed mother figure that she played in The Darjeeling Limited the year before, but that’s not a criticism.  She’s especially compelling in the flashback scenes, where we see how her particular brand of craziness sent Victor down the road to becoming the screwed-up fellow he is when we meet him.  Gillian Jacobs breathes a lot of heart and soul into her small role as Beth/”Cherry Daquiri.”  She is also, I might add, stunningly beautiful.  Speaking of beautiful, I found myself completely smitten (as is Victor) by Kelly MacDonald (Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men) as Paige Marshall, who Victor meets at the private hospital where his mother is being treated.  I can really believe that she is the individual who can shake Victor out of the terrible rut that his life has become.  

Choke deals quite frankly with sex and a lot of sexual situations.  In some indie movies I find that frankness to be a bit uncomfortable, but here the subject matter is treated with just enough of a touch of humor that I went along quite eagerly for the ride.  There’s a lot of weirdness to be found in Choke, and Victor’s habit of imagining the people he’s interacting with naked is just one small part of this!  As with The Wackness (which I reviewed on Wednesday) this film has to strike a delicate balance between the humor and the drama, and between the realistic character arcs and the absurdity of some of the situations depicted.  And as with The Wackness, Choke succeeds admirably.  First-time writer/director Clark Gregg (so recognizable as a terrific actor in Sports Night, The West Wing, State and Main, Spartan, and most recently as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Iron Man) does a wonderful job of bringing the story to life.  You’d never know this was the work of a first-time director.  Gregg is also hilarious in his small role as the Lord High Charlie, one of Victor’s co-workers at Colonial Dunsboro.

This movie is not for everyone.  All the sexual goings-on, not to mention all the other weirdness, might be too much for some, and I could certainly understand that.  But I found myself completely engaged by the story, totally carried away by the bizarre, unique world of Choke.

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