Clark Gregg’s super-sharp romantic comedy debut adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.
"I’m not who you think I am." This protest from Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), protagonist of Choke, should be heeded closely. For while Clark Gregg’s feature debut may be adapted from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, while it may feature a self-deluding protagonist who regularly attends group-therapy sessions.
While it may tap smartly into the delirious state of contemporary culture and while it may close with an indie song (Radiohead’s 'Reckoner) that feels like it was scored for the film, this super-sharp romantic comedy for the new millennium neither is nor should be confused with David Fincher’s iconic male-angst epic Fight Club. The sooner you get that particular idea out of your system, the more you can appreciate Gregg’s film for what it really is.
Victor leads a life of illusion. He is a sex addict drifting from one loveless encounter to the next; a disgruntled Colonial re-enactor at a historical theme park; and a self-confessed ‘evil scheming douchebag’, serially feigning his own asphyxiation at swanky restaurants to pay for the hospital care of his once politically and now medically demented mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), who no longer even recognises him.
Along with his equally lost buddy Denny (Brad William Henke), Victor pursues an aimless existence of momentary gratifications. Then suddenly change arrives: he finds real love with Ida’s unorthodox new physician Paige (Kelly MacDonald); he comes unexpectedly close to learning the identity of his long lost father; and he discovers that he might just be a new Messiah, sent to save an imperfect world. All are truths that prove hard for our priapic protagonist to swallow.
If at first it seems episodic and fragmented, this is because Choke charts Victor’s path from moral and spiritual chaos towards something like clarity, with everything flying into place in the mile-high ending. Gregg is best known as an actor (you can see him here playing Lord High Charlie), but he also proves to be an assured director and fearless adaptor, never shying away from the ribaldry, if not downright sacrilege, of his source – while the ensemble cast offers suitably unflinching performances.
Set in the flotsam and jetsam of postmodernity – where things are rarely as they seem, where faith is merely the flipside of charlatanism, and where meaning is endlessly deferred – Choke is a shaggy-dog story for the Noughties, playing pass-the-parcel with an array of mixed metaphors, unified by their collective concern for the difference between appearance and reality, as its desperately disoriented anti-hero goes on a quest to find (or at least to stop avoiding) something, anything, real in a world of fakery, fantasy and lies.
That the resulting adult fairytale should turn out to be not only immensely funny, but also endlessly surprising – and, yes, genuinely affecting – is no less than a miracle for our age.
Great, more Fight Club-style anarchic antics!
But [choke] where is Tyler Durden?
Hang in there – it’s an erotic gospel for the secular age instead. And that’s a good thing.