“I’m ok, you’re ok” burst into American consciousness in the ‘70s and has become a mantra of sorts for millions. But no one really believes that crap. It’s more “I’m ok, and you’re a selfish a-hole who needs to stop talking so loud on the damn phone.” One of the bracing things about Choke is that its main character, Victor, doesn’t even try to pretend he’s ok. He’s a sex addict, and he’s proud. He takes advantage of almost everyone around him, and he doesn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. He makes money by forcing himself to choke in front of wealthy diners, hoping they’ll save him and then, feeling a sense of connection, start sending him cash. Amazingly, it works.
His life, though, is a shambles. His mom is moving up the floors of a mental illness facility (up is bad), and she doesn’t even recognize him anymore. And the only people he hangs out with are other sex addicts who, once they find genuine relationships, don’t really need Victor’s caustic friendship anymore. But one day he bumps into a caring, pretty doctor at the facility. Even better, he finds his lust turning into genuine ... well, maybe not love but something approach affection. Oh yeah, he also might be the son of God.
This unlikely setup would be almost impossible to take if it didn’t have Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and Kelly MacDonald (No Country for Old Men) in the lead roles. Rockwell sells the stylized narration and dialogue (courtesy of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk) as if it was a loaded used car, and MacDonald conveys a vulnerability that humanizes the entire story. And truth be told, some of the movie is hilarious, particularly the scenes set in a Colonial living museum.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough. The repeated flashbacks with Victor as a boy and his mom are pointless. Not only does Anjelica Huston as the mom seem bored, these attempts to add some kind of emotional depth to Victor’s condition are as phony as his choking condition. The Jesus metaphor is equally hollow, serving only to distract us from the somewhat three-dimensional chracters on screen. Worst of all, the film loses its nerve, abandoning the humor and actually embracing the “I’m ok, you’re ok” philosophy. After 85 minutes of cynicism, that cliche is a bit hard to, uh, swallow.