Movie Review: Choke (2008)

So there’s this writer with an interestingly-spelt last name, Chuck Pahlaniuk. Maybe you’ve heard of him? No? Fight Club? Hello? Well anyway he also wrote a book called Choke, which is funny and enjoyable and in true attention-deficit, non-linear Pahlaniuk style. Not as good Survivor or Invisible Monsters but I guess someone out there thought it warranted a movie. That someone was mostly right.

First time director and second-time screenwriter (after What Lies Beneath) Clark Gregg, who also co-stars in the movie (his acting resume is quite large; I recognized him as the SHIELD guy in Iron Man) as Lord High Charlie, a colonial theme park employee, does an impressive job of taking the choppiness of the source material and making a fairly cohesive film. Choke is the story of sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) and various experiences/routines he goes through while struggling with his amnesiac, domineering mother (Angelica Houston). He goes to sex addict anonymous meetings to get picked up. He goes to restaurants so he can make himself choke and get saved by rich people who will get hero complexes and feel responsible for Victor for years to come (usually in the form of sending him periodic checks). He works in a colonial re-enactment town, where he mostly imagines visitors and co-workers naked (and often sleeps with them while on the job) and hangs out with best friend and recovering chronic masturbator Denny (Brad William Henke). He visits his mother in a mental ward, filled mostly with older women who have memory problems and assign Victor as the object of their frustrations (whether it’s an older brother or former lover, etc). But every time he visits she usually thinks he’s someone else and so wallows in the belief that he never actually visits. Her condition worsens, so Victor and new doctor Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald, you know, Carla Jean in No Country For Old Men, and Evangeline in Nanny McPhee) work on a sexy experimental procedure that will maybe save her. Scenes from Victor’s highly idosyncratic childhood are shown throughout the movie, giving more depth to the character. Also, maybe he’s the half-clone of Jesus. Oops, was that a spoiler?

I thought it was pretty darn enjoyable, and a surprisingly on-target adaptation. Sam Rockwell was perfectly cast, and he really drives the whole film. There probably could have been more sex in this story of a sex addict, but I guess ratings were a concern? Also I noticed (or at least, it is my opinion) that they made Victor’s character more sympathetic. I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I remember thinking he was very funny but pretty unlikeable. Here I found his character (or maybe it was just Rockwell’s performance) much more touching, especially with the reminders of the shitshow that was his childhood. They focused more on the Paige-Victor relationship, which was ok and a very movie-ish thing to do. However, I felt that Kelly Macdonald was just awful as Paige. She was completely out of place, didn’t seem to know what to do with the role, and ended up falling flat with every line she uttered. It’s tolerable since she’s not the star of the film, but she’s in it enough to affect my opinion as a whole. Also there’s this metaphorical thing Denny does that they touch upon in the film but is more meaningfully expanded in the book, and it’s too bad it didn’t get its due. I’d say Choke is good, not great, but still a lot of fun. Kind of like the book itself. If you want your fix of back-and-forth, sex-fixated, manly comedy/drama/mystery/seediness, then stop on by.

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