Monday night was our last night at the Sundance Film Festival and it turned out to be the best night of the trip. Tonight was the premiere of Choke, and as a fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s books, the film adaptation of his novel was at the top of my must see list.
The film adaptation of Choke follows Chuck Palahniuk’s novel fairly closely. The story centers on a sex-addicted med-school dropout named Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) who works at a colonial theme park with his friend Denny (John William Henke) and due to an extremely messy upbringing, has some major mommy-issues. When he’s not shoveling hay or spending time with his mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) at the mental facility where she lives, he’s attending a sex-addict support group meeting or choking on food at restaurants.
Victor chokes on food because it gives people the opportunity to rescue him. He lets them play the hero and then they in turn send him money once in a while. This is how he pays for his mother’s hospital stay. While visiting his mother, Victor meets Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), a doctor who's taken a special interest in his mother and thinks she might have a way to cure her mental issues. But Victor is less concerned with his mother getting well again and more interested in getting her to tell him who his father really is before she dies.
Anjelica Huston does a brilliant job as both the young and older version of Ida Mancini. Through the use of flashbacks we learn that when Ida was younger she was a rebel on the run from the law. In the present day, she’s suffers from dementia and rarely recognizes her own son. Huston’s performance as Ida seems effortless. As for Sam Rockwell, I’m not sure how I pictured Victor when I read the book but after seeing Rockwell take on the role, I’m always going to picture Victor Mancini that way. He does a perfect job of portraying Victor as a guy with some major issues who at the same time, isn’t entirely unlikable. Kelly MacDonald also did a great job with the role of Paige and while I’m not sure I pictured Denny the way that he’s presented in the film, somehow Brad William Henke manages to bring out the chronic-masturbator's adorable side.
When you’ve read the book, it can often be hard to look at the movie on it’s own and judge it fairly, but even as a fan of the book I think writer/director Clark Gregg did a good job adapting it for film. Sure everythin from the book didn't make it into the movie, but that's to be expected. My only real complaint is that I didn’t feel like I was ever actually in Victor’s head; at least not in the way I do when reading the book. Because Palahniuk wrote Choke from a first-person perspective, you really get the sense that you know exactly how Victor’s mind works. There is some voice-over throughout the film but I’m not sure it was enough to help the viewers who hadn’t read the source material to fully understand the mindset of the main character. Still, it was a good movie adapted from a strange but fascinating novel and Gregg does an admirable job in taking this warped tale onto the big screen.
For photos from the star-studded Sundance 2008 premiere of Choke, click here.