Blue Bayou

Written by Patrick Hao

20/100

Sometimes there is a movie that is so embarrassing, you cannot understand how anyone could take it seriously. Blue Bayou is such a movie. By all reports, critical reviews have been receptive to the film tackling the issue of citizenship status of international adoptees brought to the United States before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. The film received thunderous applause with some pushback from adoptee advocacy groups over the film’s exploitation of these issues. But, for me Blue Bayou is the nadir of handsomely made art films that thinks it has a lot to say but has nothing to say at all.

At the crux of Blue Bayou is a story of Antonio (played by Justin Chon who also wrote and directed), a tattoo artist who was adopted from Korea when he was three years old in New Orleans. His adoption did not necessarily go well as his abusive adopted father led him to being estranged from his new family in America and towards a felonious life stealing motorcycles. Now older, and more mature, Antonio finds it hard to get a well-paying job to support his pregnant wife Kathy (a game Alicia Vikander) and his stepdaughter Jessie (the too cute for her own good Sydney Kowalske).

Problems start boiling over when the buffoonish Jessie’s biological father Ace (Mark O’Brien) and his even more buffoonish partner (Emory Cohen) begin harassing Antonio. Antonio retaliates thus leading to his arrest. During this process, it is discovered that his adopted parents never filed the paperwork for him to gain his citizenship, leading to removal proceedings by ICE – a real problem that is affecting many adopted international adoptees. His solutions are minimal.

All of this makes for great fodder to chew on. There is intergenerational angst, immigration issues, the pitfalls of bureaucratic government, police brutality, and the meaning of being American. The results, however, are a product of a really insecure filmmaker with something to prove. Justin Chon, whose previous directorial efforts include the interesting works in Gook and Ms. Purple, feels very lost in the material. He knows this is an important story, but it becomes clear that he was not the one to tell it.

Everything from the writing to Chon’s performance to the filmic style is affected in a way that screams, “pay attention to me.” The film is shot in 16mm with no real purpose other than a way to flex his cinematic bonafides. After the third magic hour montage, it starts losing any real meaning. Chon puts on a thick Cajun accent, which could be powerful in highlighting the disassociation viewers have on Asian Americans, but his performance borders upon “Maine Justice ” levels of big.

The most offensive of all is how all the capital “I” issues have the subtlety of an alligator in a clothing store. From the opening moments when Antonio is asked “Where are you from?” to the last 30-minutes which features a level of coincidences and sudden character shifts, it felt like Chon had no respect for his audience. Rather, he presents these ideas and issues that are so superficial. This is the type of movie in which characters speak in New York Times op-eds.  

The one saving grace is the performance from Linh Dan Pham as Parker. She is a Vietnamese refugee who befriends Antonio as she battles through cancer. While she infuses Parker with interiority that the other characters seem to lack, she too is reduced as a “Manic Pixie Mother Figure.” She waxes poetic about identity, comparing them to the rootless flowers of the Louisiana state flower fleur de lis. Her final moment in the film is guffaw worthy.

Ultimately, Blue Bayou suffers from fetishization of suffering – or as I like to call it “oppression porn.” There is a sense that for a movie to be “Important,” suffering needs to be in the forefront. In reality, it feels like a desperate plea for clout, to appeal to bleeding hearts. With all this talk about Asian American representation in the media, maybe it is great to have a film like Blue Bayou. It is so beautifully misguided in its good intentions that it forgot how to be a movie. Asian Americans need their Crash just as much as they need Shang-Chi.

Blue Bayou Trailer

Blue Bayou is currently screening in theatrical wide release.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The Green Knight

Written by Alexander Reams

86/100

Honor is what we all search for at some point in our lives. Whether this is honor in your work, family, or hobbies, there is something we all desire honor in. Our first look at this study in honor came over 15 months ago. Then the world seemingly came to a stop and also lost its honor during the pandemic. Trading it for fear, miscommunication, and distrust. Such is the case with Gawain, played masterfully by Dev Patel. After entering into a game with a mysterious character who calls himself “The Green Knight”. He only wants to be indulged in a game. One that Gawain quickly, perhaps too quickly, accepts, and eventually sheds any facade of honor for these traits that the world did as well. David Lowery’s The Green Knight is an indulgence in a genre that once populated cinemas while also feeling modernized and old school at the same time. 

Through most of the runtime the film does not focus on the game between Gawain and the titular Green Knight. Lowery chooses instead to focus on the journey that Gawain undergoes to finish his game with him. The film skips through time, though never haphazardly, always acquainting the viewer with the new period within a few minutes of being in that environment. Something that cannot be praised enough to Writer/Director David Lowery. Always keeping the focus on a film that is not only grand in scale but rich in character. From the various scenes showcasing the superb production design along Gawain’s year-end journey to his mythic opponent. To the fantastical and surreal cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo. Who utilizes the technique “camera obscura” to put the viewer at ease. 

Dev Patel has been on the rise for quite some time now, my favorite performance of his was in the 2016 film Lion. He is delivering at his full potential along the films runtime. His narcissistic, egotistical performance fits the role and brings a new level to his skill as an actor. He took the text that Lowery adapted and met it graduating their vision to another level. This can also be said for the entire cast, filled with a star studded lineup, but from the opening shot it’s easy to forget about them. It is Dev Patel’s film, they are just in it. For a film with grand scale, it is very quiet. With spurts of loud, grandiose moments at times. These larger moments shine brightly, and have stuck with me. This is a picture that reminds me why I not only love films, but why I want to make them. Masterclass independent filmmaking on a grand scale is a genre that is not witnessed often.

The Green Knight Trailer

The Green Knight is currently in theatrical wide release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Episode 78: Bad Education / Ema / Putney Swope

“Even with the lowest budget in the world, you better get some names in there; that calms people down. Then be sure your leading character is in a hurry.”

Robert Downey Sr.

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Dev Patel led films in The Green Knight & The Personal History of David Copperfield. Followed by a discussion of the Titles: Bad Education, Ema, and Putney Swope.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

Bad Education on HBO Max

Putney Swope on Prime Video

Ema is currently seeking distribution