“I have sex with strangers because I’m incapable of doing it with someone I actually like. I can’t even ask anyone out on a date because if it doesn’t end up in a high speed chase, I get bored.”
Although Fight Club became an enduring success on home video (notwithstanding its misguided adoption by incels), to date Choke is the only other Chuck Palahniuk novel to be made into a film, and it’s safe to say it has not reached a similar status. In many ways Choke exemplifies the difficulty in adapting modern literature to the screen, where so much relies on knowledge of the characters’ perspectives, mental states, and thought processes. This often results in the lazy crutch of voice overs. Our inability to connect with the characters is no fault of the actors — all the leads are good — but rather a rapidly-paced script that never allows us the time to understand these individuals in more than the cynical overtones that drive the narrative and satire. Writer/director Clark Gregg is able deftly to shift tone between sombre and comedic without it feeling jarring, and Choke fully commits to both its cynicism and raunchiness. This provides the viewer with something to enjoy, even if the film struggles to elicit an emotional reaction.
“There’s a whole world out there for you, Duncan. Don’t settle. Not yet.”
The Way Way Back is a delight that has instantly earned a place amongst my favourite coming-of-age films, not because it breaks new ground but because it populates the familiar template with such well-realised characters that I am certain to rewatch it just to spend more time with them. This is perhaps more surprising from a pair of comedian writer-directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Community‘s Dean Pelton), who let the humanity drive the humour rather than the other way round. Our sympathy for Duncan arises not from his adolescent awkwardness but the difficult family dynamic of this summer holiday, coping with his parents’ divorce and the distance he feels from his mother due to her overbearing new boyfriend Trent. Shot with a visual sheen of sun-drenched nostalgia, there is a sense of fortuitous absurdism in the ease with which Duncan is taken under the wing of workers at a water park and offered a job. Although the whole ensemble cast excels, Sam Rockwell’s performance as Owen is perhaps the key, acting as a counterpoint to Trent, immature but self-aware and unburdened by ego. The Way Way Back deserves praise for not seeking easy or fantastic resolutions to its more serious confrontation, leaving viewers with hopefulness rather than closure.