Goes down smooth
Choke is a modestly budgeted, small scale character piece which debuted in 2008 to middling critical reception and meager commercial success. Inevitably, Choke has drawn comparisons to fight club as it is the only other film adaption of maverick novelist Chuck Palahniuk’s viciously idiosyncratic fiction. While the comparison is relevant, it mainly undersells the more unique and interesting component’s of choke in favor of exemplifying the shortcomings of those elements similar to fight club while offering peppy bromides such as “fight club for sex addicts” which manage to succinctly say very little about the film itself.
In a sentence, Choke follows a young historical reenactor ( Sam Rockwell) and sex addict Victor Mancini, who has recently dropped out of medical school in order to pay for his Alzheimer’s afflicted mother’s care, the funds for which he gathers by forcing himself to choke in upmarket restaurants then asking his resulting rescuer for money. As you can see, the movie is replete with the trademark Palahniukian peculiarities (a phrase I hope never to type again) which characterise his fiction. An important distinction to make however, is that having been filtered through screenwriter and directorClark Gregg, the many pitfalls and off putting aberrations of Palahniuk’s writing have been mainly eliminated, replaced with a much more palatable weirdness instead of the usual blatant shocks and oddly specific medical factoids that one might expect.
Owing to it’s modest three million dollar budget, choke is not the most visually impressive film, although there is a definite and noticeable separation between the dreary interior’s, the clinical hospital wings and the refreshing greenery of the exteriors. There is some visual panache however, in the many jarring flashes of graphic sex and nudity. As a sex addict, Mancini has had more sex than Jude Law and Russel Brand combined, and these scenes really lend an effective insight into the workings of his mind. At any point there may be a smash cut to a rapacious sex scene, or a female character may suddenly be in a state of undress and these unexpected moments manage to add to the films bank of black humor, consistently being shocking without being disturbing as well as being funny without becoming silly.
Rockwell is the centerpiece of the film, and is one of few actors who could legitimately carry such a tonally vacillating oddity on his shoulders. Thankfully he does so, and manages to convincingly portray Victor Mancini throughout Choke’s emotional, humorous and sometimes incoherent designs. Rockwell has demonstrated ebullience and pathos across his filmography, but while most of the focus remains on his character, his acting cohorts don’t quite match up to the quality he displays. On paper, most of these secondary characters inhabit expected movie archetypes like: the crazy mother ( Anjelica Huston), the best friend ( Brad William Henke) or the love interest ( Kelly MacDonald) and while a handful become more, generally the plot seems content with the stereotypes while the actors struggle to offer any depth. Rockwell’s near perpetual narration is Chokes closest tie to fight club, and although such narration is often trite and unnecessary, here it is usually enjoyable and Rockwell overcomes it’s few gratuitous moments with his unflinching dedication.
Chokes true shortcoming is that there are no major events which drive the plot’s momentum forward, resulting in a mainly meandering story that may well lose some viewers interest in it’s more achingly slow periods. The relationship between Mancini and his mother is essentially the crux of his character, however the numerous flashback sequences simply fail to convey the early childhood anguish and abuse which shaped his fractured adult psyche, and while the intention of these scenes is certainly clear, they are lacking in the necessary impact. A plot point which arose around the midway point had me filling with an expected disappointment (as believability was seemingly headed out the window) but by the conclusion it was satisfyingly addressed and in retrospect the plot point in question had been used as a means to raise some interesting questions of morality.
And that is the most important point to be made about Choke, it raises some interesting questions but never really expands upon any of it’s themes or ideas to the extent of say… fight club. Where fight club expounds upon themes of the feminisation of modern men, or consumerist culture while effortlessly interweaving those ideas into it’s main story, Choke addresses some of it’s ideas while raising many others which languish mainly unexplored. Where fight club had effortlessly quotable narration and one of the most memorable twist’s in cinema, Choke’s offerings in these area’s are good but by no means memorable. Choke is no fight club, but then again what movie is? In my opinion Choke does not see itself as any kind of parallel to fight club, this is just an inevitable comparison in the mind of the viewer. However the more that you divorce these films from one another, the more enjoyable Choke becomes. It may be no fight club, but Choke is much easier to swallow. I am Jack’s obstructed airway.