Rockwell steals the show in Gregg’s racy Choke

Despite the fact that it will undoubtedly raise comparisons to David Fincher’s adaptation of author Chuck Palahniuk’s previous novel Fight Club, Clark Gregg’s film adaptation of Choke firmly holds its own and manages to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the darkly humorous novel

The screenplay, also written by Gregg, was a labor of love, as he developed it over a period of six years beginning in 2001.

The effort shows on screen, as the audience is able to easily connect with the main character, Victor, despite his sardonic attitude and despicable habits.

Surprisingly, Gregg was also able to tastefully film the movie in a way that preserved the explicitness of the novel but also allowed him to achieve an R-rating, which is quite a feat, considering how easily the adaptation could have been slapped with the dreaded NC-17.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the novel (which you should go out and read immediately), the plot of Choke follows Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell, perfectly cast and spot on), who dropped out of medical school after two years.

His mother, Ida (Anjelica Houston, somewhat forced and unconvincing) is sick, and to pay for the hospital bills, Victor works as a historic citizen of a faux-colonial village with his friend Denny (Brad Henke, kind of bland).

To make ends meet, Victor also spends his time pretending to choke at high-end restaurants, hoping that the person who saves him will provide him with greeting cards filled with money in the following months.

Victor believes that he offers these people with a priceless service: they become pseudo-heroes and gain a sense of importance, all while providing Victor’s aliases, and hence, Victor, with an alternate source of income.

Victor is also a sex addict. Stuck on his fourth step, he attends weekly sex addiction meetings with little success, as he ignores the rules and advice given to him.

He continues to have repeated sex with other members of the group and random women of all backgrounds, in the process showing little regard for other people and painting himself as an obnoxious jerk.

The crux of the story focuses on Victor’s inability to deal with his mother’s worsening condition and the corresponding relationship that forms between Victor and his mother’s doctor, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald, cute and effective).

Rockwell and Macdonald have good chemistry, which gives the audience the opportunity to form a stronger connection to the trials that the characters encounter throughout the movie.

The main reasons for the movie’s effectiveness lie in the excellent score and music selection, the unique yet faithful screenplay and the wonderful performance given by Sam Rockwell.

The score for the film adds an innovative dimension to the dark tone set by the dialogue and screenplay, and it perfectly reveals the essence of black comedy that would otherwise remain hidden under the veil of bleak subject matter and depressing events.

The supplemental song selection (with which Gregg had a large amount of input), especially the concluding song by Radiohead, complements the scenes for which it is used.

After watching the movie, it is hard to imagine any actor other than Rockwell in the role of Victor, as his portrayal of the distasteful sex addict seems emotionally subdued yet compassionately inspired.

A small appearance by Gregg as Lord High Charlie adds a more lighthearted comedic aspect to the film and works well as a break from some of the darker scenes.

The most significant drawback to Choke is the short running time, which works to detract from the audience’s connection to the characters. Consequently, it adds a sense of unwanted disjointedness to the progression of the film.

Palahniuk’s book definitely provided additional material that could have been utilized in the movie, and in doing so, the adaptation would have achieved a much more cohesive story.

Furthermore, because of the diminished running time, the concluding “twist” felt somewhat rushed and much of the potential impact was lost.

However, the fact that Choke was independently financed with a miniscule budget and was shot in only 25 days helps to explain this slight shortcoming.

In Choke, Gregg succinctly created a darkly comedic movie that manages to both evoke the viewers’ sympathies for an unsympathetic character and expose them to the unappealing world of sex addiction.