“Sex addicts. These people are the reason that emergency rooms have special tools to remove the champagne bottle, the fluorescent bulb, and the hamster. For the freaks in here, sex is a compulsion like gambling, drugs, or shoplifting…”
That describes Victor Mancini (Rockwell), the focus of the rather absurd little black comedy based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk and adapted for the screen by Clark Gregg, who also directs and acts in the movie.
Victor is a sex addict. On top of that he’s a compulsive liar and pretty much in life only for himself. His mother (Huston) is in an assisted living facility suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. Most of the time that he visits, she thinks he’s one of her many dead lawyers. Victor plays along as he does for many of the patients at the facility, allowing them closure in their lives; at least that’s how he justifies it. He’s slept with pretty much the entire female staff at the ward. Now he’s approached by his mother’s attending doctor with a strange request. She wants him to impregnate her so that she can produce a child with stem cells that might heal his mother. Unfortunately, this is one time that Victor can’t seem to bring himself to have sex. Flashbacks reveal he had a rather dysfunctional relationship with his mom in between foster homes. She was usually running from the cops. To keep his mom in the expensive facility, he has worked out a quite elaborate and dangerous con. He puts food in his throat and begins to choke. He expects someone will rescue him and start to feel a bond with him. He counts on this bond for both cash and lovers. That’s how he makes the monthly $3000 the hospital wants. Victor works at an historical village, where they must act and work like they were in the 18th century. It makes for an amusing chance for director Gregg to have a small but memorable part, as the Lord High Charlie. If it seems like this is a complex plot that is all over the place, that’s exactly what it is.
The film is actually the personal journey of Victor, and we see everything through his eyes. It is often funny, although never hilariously so. The problem is that everyone is having so much fun that the film often appears introspective, and we’re not always in on the joke. After watching Gregg interact with Chuck Palahniuk, it appears even more likely that this entire film was an inside joke that the two of them are laughing uncontrollably at, so much so that they fail to take the time to let us in. So, all we really have to hold on to here are the performances of the cast. Fortunately, that’s enough sometimes at least to hold our interest while our brain is going: “What the…” Sam Rockwell has a certain mild mannered charm about him so that we still kind of like him even after the reprehensible things he constantly does. He reminds me a lot of Owen Wilson, who is able to look at you and talk to you in such a way that you just can’t scold him no matter what he’s done. It’s a very fortunate turn of events for Gregg and Palahniuk. Angelica Huston is also solid as both the senile older mother in the ward and in the flashbacks as the woman responsible for messing up Victor’s head to begin with. Bard William Henke also puts in a solid performance as Victor’s “gentle giant” friend Denny. Denny’s also got sexual issues, but he grows beyond Victor in the film and learns to have the healthy relationship that eludes Victor. In the end neither film nor character have really grown any. When it’s over we’re left to shrug our shoulders and likely quickly forget all about Choke.
Choke is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a very plain and ordinary visual presentation. I guess it’s mostly the intended style, but nothing looks quite real. Colors are usually just a bit off. They don’t look bad, but they do tend to “not feel right”. After watching some of the bonus features, it appears much of this was intentional. It seems that Gregg wanted to tell the story as if it was from Victor’s memory, and he suggests that memory is faulty and things like color would be off. It’s a fine, if not clever idea, but it doesn’t make it a comfortable film to watch. Black levels are average, but it isn’t often a darkly lit film. There is a bit of grain and compression noise. None of it distracts, at least any more than the unnatural color palette.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is about as plain as it could be. It lives entirely in the middle frequencies, offering a very dull and front and center sound field. Dialog is clear. It doesn’t distract, but it’s a very unexciting audio presentation.
There is an Audio Commentary with Gregg and Palahniuk. It’s pretty much the same as the feature below. The feel of that inside joke really comes across here.
Deleted Scenes: There are 5 with an optional play all feature. You may also opt for an audio commentary from Gregg and Palahniuk. Most of this is interaction between young Victor and his mother. There are 2 versions of an alternative ending where Victor is nearly stoned by a mob of people who found out their “rescue” was a con.
Gag Reel: Less than 2 minutes of laughs and louse-ups.
A Conversation With Clark Gregg and Chuck Palahniuk: For 10 minutes the two are alone at a bar talking about the story. It’s a very informal and intimate discussion that spends most of its time comparing and contrasting the film and the novel.
Hello, My Name Is Victor… – The Making Of Choke: This 15 minute piece is more about character descriptions than actually filming the movie. Cast and crew philosophize about Victor and his mother for most of the piece.
A Mother’s Love: This is a 6 minute look at the mother/son relationship in the film.
From The L.A. Film Festival: This is a 4 minute piece where Gregg and Palahniuk each share a couple of anecdotes for a premiere crowd.
Fox Movie Channel Presents – Casting Session: This is a 10 minute Fox Movie Channel promo complete with the station’s television bug in the lower right corner of your screen. It looks at the cast and why the actors were chosen for their roles. It’s good that someone recognizes the cast literally saved this film. It took the cast prize at Sundance, as well it should have.
This is one of those films you have to be thinking too much to enjoy. I made the mistake of watching it almost immediately after the frantic paced Feast III. What a difference a new DVD makes. It’s very much an art house style film and most likely will appeal more to that crowd. The only way I was able to enjoy it, however, was through a brilliant cast. Otherwise it will quickly numb your brain and begin to scoop out your innards. The sex isn’t as graphic as I guess it could have been. It doesn’t really offend, except for the time it’s taken. “Think of Gilligan’s Island meets Groundhog Day in Hell.”