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Saturday, December 2, 2023


Choke’ equally profane, funny

Choke, a dark and charming film adaptation of the acclaimed Chuck Palahniuk novel by the same name, tells the story of a sex-addicted theme park worker who purposefully chokes on food in restaurants for his twisted financial scheme. It is also a funny, perverse, and surprisingly heartfelt film about discovering intimacy.

Who said originality is dead?

Choke centers on Victor (Sam Rockwell), a despondent, self-loathing schemer who cons strangers into rescuing him and sending money to pay for the care of Victor’s mentally ill mother (Anjelica Huston). Between his shifts as an indentured Irish servant at a colonial reenactment village, Victor also cruises sexual addiction meetings, but less for his recovery and more for the late-night rendezvous in the meeting hall’s restroom. For Victor, love and sex are far from being synonymous. His sexual addiction is fueled on forming a connection, albeit fleeting, shallow and for only minutes at a time.

He allows others to save his life at restaurants because he is incapable of saving himself, but when he discovers the possible divine origins of his father, Victor is faced with the decision to rethink his life and become the savior he never wanted to be.

While most people will likely remember Pahlaniuk as the writer behind the cult-hit Fight Club, there is little similarity between the two film adaptations besides their warped sensibilities and quality. Choke doesn’t intend to have the same visceral punch as Fight Club, and instead of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, Choke’s biggest star is arguably Sam Rockwell. While not yet a household name, Rockwell has a natural likability that plays Victor as well as any actor imaginably could. Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men) round out the cast, and aside from Macdonald’s occasionally wooden delivery, the acting is consistently solid.

Helmed by first-time director Clark Gregg, Choke works because it never takes itself too seriously. Its greatest strength, in fact, lies in its ability to balance its sleazy comedic elements with an occasional moment of emotional, introspective drama. Victor may be the worst embodiment of the typical movie hero in ages – he hates himself, doesn’t particularly want to save his dying mother and until he reaches his moment of epiphany, treats women as disposable. But because Choke is wrapped up in such a lighthearted, charming exterior, and retains a heart beneath all the debauchery, it works.

Previously an actor in films such as Iron Man, The Usual Suspects, and In Good Company, Gregg acknowledged the difficulty in striking the perfect tone in such potentially offensive material.

"This felt as dark as you can possibly get while still trying to be funny," Gregg told The Daily Cougar. "I knew that if you pull off the tone of this movie then it’s going to very special, and that’s the movie I would want to see."

Before mailing Gregg that piece of hate mail, it’s advisable to first see the movie. While it certainly won’t appeal to some, Choke is a crude, strange, wholly original comedy with elements of a traditional love story. It’s also one of the best movies to come along in months.

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