Freudian Heimlich

âÄúChokeâÄù Directed by: Clark Gregg Starring: Sam Rockwell, Angelica Huston, Brad William Henke Rated: R Showing at: Local theaters beginning Sept. 26, 2008. In a society where cinematic violence doesnâÄôt make toddlers flinch but overindulgent sex compels many mothers and fathers to cup their mouths, âÄúChoke,âÄù based on the novel by âÄúFight ClubâÄù scribe Chuck Palahniuk, will likely have many a moralist talking. The trailers for the film are as throbbing and sexual as the movie itself, which means there are going to be those who donâÄôt even see the film but still feel the need to pass judgment âÄî praying, perhaps, for the sordid souls who find such smut so mirthfully entertaining. The movie is, after all, about a conning sex addict. But âÄúChoke,âÄù which was adapted and directed by actor Clark Gregg (who currently stars in the sitcom âÄúThe New Adventures of Old ChristineâÄù) isnâÄôt all raunch and deceit. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, this arousing oddity has heart âÄî maybe even enough to make Mom like it. Protagonist Victor Mancini (a shadowy, sarcastic Sam Rockwell ) is outwardly selfish. He attends group therapy for sex addiction, but can often be found utilizing his growling loins with a female counterpart while therapy is in session. He has another bad habit: He purposely chokes on food while dining at fancy restaurants. His plan is to leech onto the unsuspecting deep-pocketed heroes who save him, and milk them for their worth by acting like their needy child. His best friend Denny (Brad William Henke) shares similar provocative pastimes and mind frames. To pay the bills, the pair works long-faced days as historical actors. But there are lots of bills: VicâÄôs mom Ida (Angelica Huston) is incapacitated. SheâÄôs been struck with some mind-eating illness and is housed in an expensive facility that Vic has to foot the bill for. And thatâÄôs all just back story. What really quickens the pace is VicâÄôs quest to purge from his ailing mother the identity of his father. Throw in an unusual love affair between Vic and IdaâÄôs doctor Paige (Kelly MacDonald), and you still have only a glimpse of all the action. What pegs the movie as a quirky indie is undoubtedly the âÄúJunoâÄù -esque combination of screwball characters and ping-pong fast quipping. But in this show there is no real uplifting âÄúLittle Miss Sunshine âÄú moment. Even the murky tone of âÄúLars and the Real Girl âÄú feels light when compared to âÄúChoke.âÄù ItâÄôs not as easy to smile at RockwellâÄôs grungy, sex-filled existence as it is to tear-up at Ellen PageâÄôs whoops-I-got-pregnant fairytale. But thereâÄôs a certain power to âÄúChokeâÄù âÄî a refreshing, often hilarious energy. ItâÄôs different. ItâÄôs fun. The college crowd will love it; the post-college crowd might smirk at it; anyone younger than 13 might mistake certain scenes for soft-core porn. But thatâÄôs okay âÄî Victor would understand. RockwellâÄôs performance is gritty and near-eerie. With a simple inflection of his voice, he draws a sense of empathy for his looming pessimistic persona. In terms of personality, Vic possesses a sitcom writerâÄôs wit that heats up the film. Angelica Huston adds much needed credibility to a film with such a pornographic mentality. As a degenerating former con artist, sheâÄôs in an awkward role, but she handles it well. Whatever the film lacks in precise character development, it makes up for with actors who are wise enough to effectively manipulate the audience. âÄúChokeâÄù is not worried about coming off as realistic. Instead, it is unapologetically absurd. Accompanying the characters is a snarky narration thatâÄôs frequent but not overused. This voiceover imbues the film with a distinctively dark personality, and it maintains a tone as wicked as the one in PalahniukâÄôs novel. In this world, blouses magically disappear, and breast size alters as the narrator demands. Sure itâÄôs crude, but the film is smarter than many of its sophomoric actions, so much is laughed at and quickly forgiven. If âÄúChokeâÄù has any major fault, itâÄôs in the somewhat unwieldy construction. Vic and IdaâÄôs entire lives are crammed into only 90 minutes. Like the novel, much of the film is told through nonsequential flashbacks. These contribute to a stilted movement in the film. But scene by scene, each patch has something to be enjoyed, and the final sum is a satisfying romp. As a whole, the movie feels just as hormonal and evolving as its hero. A&E’s Interview with Clark Gregg, writer and director of “Choke”: In between ordering an egg-white omelet and sipping half-caff espresso, Clark Gregg, writer and director of âÄúChoke,âÄù chatted with A&E about the making of the film. What do you like best about the movie youâÄôve put together? What I like most about the book is the unusual blend of heavy, painful drama with outrageous comedic stuff. IâÄôve just never seen them coexist in the same story in quite that way. Later, I came to feel like, when I started watching [old favorite] movies to prepare [for writing the script] there was some similar stuff in some of my favorite âÄò70s movies, like âÄú[One Flew Over the] CuckooâÄôs Nest,âÄù âÄúThe Last Detail âÄú and âÄúHarold and Maude, âÄú and some great movies like that. I feel like [this film] manages to enfold that breadth the way the book did âĦ and the fact that Chuck Palahniuk and his fans feel like the book has been honored is a huge relief to me. I noticed that the movie has interesting, quirky characters as well as a twisty, convoluted plot. Many movies tend to go either heavy on character or on story âÄî but this one seems to be driven by both. Yeah, thatâÄôs interesting. To me, thatâÄôs a great compliment to the movie, and to ChuckâÄôs book. You know when youâÄôre reading something as an actor, the first thing you notice is the characters. The actor part of me kind of went âÄòWow, IâÄôd want to do that.âÄô But then the writer and director part of you kind of goes âÄòOh, I didnâÄôt see that twist coming âÄî what a great reveal.âÄô Plot twists in general can be kind of, pardon me, masturbatory. But these plot twists reveal depths of character. Were you afraid to make a movie about sex addicts? Yeah, I was for a couple of reasons. In this country, weâÄôre perfectly comfortable watching people get plastered all over a wall with machine guns, but you break out some nipples and folks start getting all kinds of fidgety. And that was also what drew me to [the book] âĦ I have a desire to kind of poke at these âÄúuptightnesses.âÄù In a culture where you might handle sadness or pain by consuming stuff âÄî drugs, alcohol, gambling âÄî that list really solidly includes sex, in my opinion. People who grew up feeling any kind of dissonance or loneliness learn to use sexuality in that way [as a medication]. So when it comes time to incorporate it into something that involves intimacy, they can be bereft. Earlier, you were saying there were certain things in the book that you didnâÄôt think would work in movie form. In general, what did you think would not work? Some things donâÄôt work in translating. [In the book] VictorâÄôs mom gives zoo animals acid as a way of liberating them, and I felt that was strangely upsetting âĦ again I was aware that you can murder vast numbers of people in a movie, but if you kill a dog, everyone will leave [the theater]. I felt people would have a similar feeling about giving zebras acid, and I also knew it wouldnâÄôt be cinematic. YouâÄôd look at the zebras, and âÄî unless I played psychedelic music âÄî youâÄôd never believe the zebras were on acid. [Laughs.] All I could think about is what the zebras would be seeing in each otherâÄôs stripes. I knew I had to find a more visual way to manifest the same things. Would you almost prefer that people not have read the book before seeing the movie? Yes. IâÄôm a big fan of the book and of Chuck. IâÄôm hoping people have read the book, just not so recently. [Laughs.] Yeah, sometimes people think that the movie is going to be an exact replica of what was on the page. Yeah, and I relate to that. People feel a real ownership âĦ thereâÄôs a way that people connect to ChuckâÄôs stuff that is amazing, and if I had known about it, I probably would have been scared off. But at the same time I welcome it. TheyâÄôre responding to something passionately, which is what I did. In the first two years of writing [the script] I learned that unless the story made the transition from liquid to solid, it probably wouldnâÄôt be very good. Would you say that the idea of choking is somehow symbolic? I do, absolutely. I think that the choke idea is a metaphor for the way consumption-obsessed people can take in a lot of stuff without actually digesting or absorbing its value or nourishment. ThatâÄôs what it [the story] always meant to me; here was this guy going to amazing restaurants and choking in an attempt to make people love him. But he starts to choke so much that he just starts to waste away. A transcript of the entire interview can be found on the A&E blog.