U.S.A. , 2008
Actor-turned-director Clark Gregg hopes he is as adept behind the camera as in front of it with Choke, a dark comedy about a mother and son and about sexual compulsion.
Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addicted med-school dropout who keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida (Angelica Houston) in an expensive private mental hospital. At night he runs a scam where he deliberately chokes himself in upscale restaurants to form relationships with the wealthy patrons who “save” him via the Heimlich maneuver.
During the turning point of the film in a rare lucid moment, Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of Victor’s father’s identity. Victor must enlist the aid of his best friend, Denny, a recovering chronic masturbator, and his mother’s beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall, to solve this mystery before the truth of his possibly divine parentage is lost forever.
As opposed to most dark comedies that have a sustained tone, Director Clark Gregg found Choke to be more tonally complex, and said that he wanted it to veer between “extremely dramatic moments” and “absurdly silly ones”. The director sought to find a way to combine the two elements, drawing inspiration from such films as Harold and Maude, Being There, Secretary and finally Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However unlike all four of these films, all of which are considered breakthroughs, Choke is not an easy film to swallow.
To put it simply Choke is disappointing not so much for what it was but more so for it’s failure to be all it could. The film at times is funny and it has it’s moments but it seems that the director just didn’t have the balls to go all out and make it as dark as it should have been. This film suffers greatly from it’s problems with pacing and little sense of forward momentum. The pacing is completely off and at times feels as if the motion in this motion picture is dying down much like a music cassette whose reel has been caught in the tape recorder and is slowly being chewed apart. His unstable direction made it unclear as to how I should to feel while watching the film. Director Clark Gregg has all the pieces in the puzzle in front of him but unfortunately he fails to put the puzzle together. Gregg’s unstable direction makes it clear he was indecisive as to what sort of film he was trying to make and worse makes it unclear as to what I should feel while watching it.
Individual scenes go on way too long and are quite repetitive. At times a good twenty minutes could pass without the story evolving and when it finally does unravel, everything comes crashing down in just a few minutes.
Maybe this stuff works in the pages in the novel, but Choke is awfully tough to digest on the screen. It’s a seriously over cluttered movie with nothing much to look at. He fails to cut down on the subplots and focus on the major theme at play and as a director he has no vision nor an eye for the camera.