With her re-view of the ho-hum adaptation of Choke, Maggie McMuffin looks back at the time—you remember, don’t you?—that seemingly everybody was into Chuck Palahniuk.
Hey remember when we cared about Chuck Palahniuk? Like really, really cared?
I was a senior in high school who saw Fight Club once and realized talking about it would make boys want to sleep with me. Then I realized the book was good and so were other ones so I read every book Palahniuk had written up until 2008. Yes, even the non-fiction. I even elected to take a weekend trip to Portland after graduating because he wrote a whole thing about what to do!
I went to college, heard Choke was getting adapted, and was beyond thrilled. It, of course, wasn’t playing anywhere near me but I ordered the DVD and watched it on my laptop, huddled under the covers of my teeny tiny dorm room.
Was it good? Maybe! There were parts different from the book, parts identical, and Anjelica Huston so…I must have liked it? I watched it a million times but as my review deadline came up I had the sinking suspicion that this was going to be not the best. Like, remember how I LOVED re-watching The Duchess a few weeks ago? No way could I be so lucky twice in a row.
Oh boy oh boy was I 100% correct.
Choke is what happens when someone tries to make a John Waters on purpose. Choke is what happens when a really good actor (Clark Gregg) decides to write and direct and feature in a film but is only good at one of those things. Choke is what happens when an amazing cast is assembled and then given an adaptation that could never ever live up to its predecessor.
Because Fincher may be a joke at this point but at least his movies have a LOOK. Fight Club is one of the few movies famous for being better than the book. It got twisted by the fanbase, sure, but it deserves to be heralded as a classic.
Choke is memorable only for how many times I thanked my partners for sitting through it with me (four) when we could have been watching American Horror Story or Black Panther.
I guess I should say what it’s about?
It’s about a sex addict named Victor Mancini who purposefully chokes on food in fancy restaurants so that he can con his saviors into giving him money. That money gets used to keep his mother in a 3k-a-month ward for women suffering from dementia. Along the way we get flashbacks for Victor’s mom constantly kidnapping him from foster homes, Victor falling for Dr. Paige Marshall at the ward, and Victor’s life working at a colonial reenactment park with his best friend Denny (also a sex addict but his jam is slamming his ham).
Whereas the book is widely regarded as one of Palahniuk’s best novels (before he started churning them out like a more bodily fluid-obsessed Stephen King), this movie is meeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh to the extreme. There’s potential around every corner but the script just doesn’t capture the magic or the sleaze. The novel went into Ida Mancini’s need for “political acts” like switching hair dyes around in the store and freeing animals from the zoo. The movie just focuses on her multiple kidnappings and making Victor promise not to love any woman except her. While we do go into Victor attempting to get her to admit who his real father is, even that weirdness doesn’t flow the way it does in the book. It’s not a movie that makes magical realism or virile sacred foreskins seem possible, nor is it one that makes them seem so abjectly impossible as to have this be an interesting twist. And Ida’s death by chocolate pudding, when played out by two actors like Huston and Rockwell, should be a heartbreaking moment infused with awkward laughter instead of just “Oh, thank god this means the movie is over soon.”
Kelly Macdonald, one of my favorite actors ever, doesn’t even get to properly shine beyond holding down a lyrical American accent. She downplays Dr. Marshall in a sweet way, coming off as aloof and straight-forward, if a little odd, but she’s flat. Also, while we kept the mythic foreskin and Victor as the potential second coming, the movie just turned her into “another med school drop out with issues.” She’s aware that she is lying about being a doctor the entire time and has been seducing Victor because his mom always talked about how devoted a son he was. Oh, and then they wind up together anyway after she breaks out? I really would have taken “I guess I’m crazy after all” over this case of “You can’t even say we passed the Bechdel Test in the prologue because all we ever did was talk about how great this slacker dude is.”
I DEMAND JUSTICE FOR DR. PAIGE MARSHALL.
(At the very least, we’re ten years in the future so I know MacDonald is doing okay with her HBO/Pixar residuals and her Black Mirror appearance.)
And I remember that when the movie was being made, they said that the giant rock castle at the end didn’t work on film. It wasn’t looking right or something. But at least film a new ending! In this, Victor goes from being interrogated by the cops for all his false confessions of abuse at the ward to flying somewhere unnamed on the plane and finding Paige in the bathroom while his voiceover talks about discovering how to love other people or whatever.
THIS IS A BAD MOVIE AND IT SHOULD FEEL BAD.
Look, I’m sure Clark Gregg is a very nice man and he actually did a great job showing of his Shakespeare chops as Charlie the colonial mayor, but maybe he shouldn’t direct or write again. Or at least not direct AND write. But that’s okay because we have him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now and he kills it there. That is a perfect use of his skills.
The few good things is what’s-his-name as Denny and Gillian Jacobs as Cherry Daiquiri/Beth. Those two are sweet and that story is adapted just the right amount into this film. Also noteworthy is the arranged rape scene between Victor and an internet hookup who gives him VERY SPECIFIC instructions on how to “rape” her and he fucks it up like he fucks everything up.
But honestly, even those parts aren’t worth sitting through the entire movie for.
And the movie isn’t even awful. It’s just mediocre drivel about man pain.
“We let the world tells us whether we’re saints or sex addicts—” Fuck off with your VO, Mr. Mancini. What you are is boring. And as your original creator said in his first book: “We must never, ever be boring”.