Sam Rockwell is a little freaked out. Perhaps it's because he's a sex addict surrounded by grannies.
courtesy Maple Pictures

Movie adaptation takes Palahniuk's words too literally

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When best-selling novels are adapted for the big screen, criticisms are sometimes leveled against screenplay writers for diverging too far from the original story. Something always gets lost in the abridgement, rearrangement or direction the film takes contrary to what the author originally intended. Ultimately, the book is usually much better than the film. With this in mind, screenwriter and director Clark Gregg followed the Chuck Palahniuk novel almost to the letter in his latest film, Choke. Unfortunately, Gregg's meticulous attention to detail serves as the film's one major flaw.

Throughout the story, there are occasional flash backs to Victor Mancini's (Sam Rockwell) childhood, each time carefully sliding another piece of the puzzle into place as the viewer learns about how Mancini came to be a sex-addicted man who, despite his apparent hatred for his mother, struggles with bills to keep her alive in an expensive nursing home. Mancini finds himself compelled to do good for reasons he is uncertain of and as the story unfolds, he eventually comes to terms with the unbelievable explanation that his mother's doctor gives him after reading her diary: he is the half-clone of Jesus Christ, synthesized from the Holy Foreskin.

The film moves along quickly to avoid the audience questioning how absurd the whole thing is and the pace is fundamentally what makes Choke the film less than ideal. The passage of time is apparent only through Mancini's best friend and fellow sex-addict, Denny (Brad William Henke), who collects a rock for each day of sex-sobriety.

When their house is suddenly full of hundreds of rocks, it is clear that a significant amount of time has passed. This works well for the novel because the reader is much more involved with the story as a necessity of it being a book. But when the film portrays it, the disorienting leap from a few rocks to hundreds turns out to be more annoying than useful. As well, the seasons never change throughout the film while the rocks begin to pile up, leaving the impression that the characters live either in a place of perpetual summer or that nothing ever happens in the fall, winter or spring. Though the novel makes no reference to season, this is much less evident and jarringly unrealistic when reading than seeing it on screen.

The confusion that ensues leaves the viewer ill prepared when the film moves into its conclusion. Though Palahniuk may have intended his novel to play out in a surreal and confusing way, for the sake of good screenwriting, Gregg should have filled in some of the gaps to make the film flow more smoothly.





I thought of all Palahniuk's books that I have read (there aren't many that I haven't), Choke was one of the weaker ones. I don't know why they made a movie out of it before Lullaby.