Victor (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict. Whether it is at his day job as an “historical interpreter” at a recreation Colonial Village or while visiting his ailing mother (Angelica Huston) at the mental hospital, he can’t stop thinking about hot, sweaty couplings with a number of the women with whom he comes into casual contact. Although he realizes he has a problem, he frequently skips out of his Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings for quick assignations in a nearby bathroom with another member of the group. The closest he gets to a relationship with others is the bond he believes that exists between a Good Samaritan and someone they save. To that end, he dines out in nice restaurants, intentionally choking on food b the hopes of being administered the Heimlich Maneuver by someone he can later hit up for money to help pay his mother’s hospital bills.
Victor’s life is turned upside down when he meets his mother’s new doctor (Kelly Macdonald). She proposes a radical, and possibly illegal, experimental procedure to slow or even halt her growing dementia. The procedure requires Victor’s participation, which he finds himself strangely unable to give.
Choke is based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club. But those expecting a film with the same tone as David Fincher’s 1999 film adaptation in which Edward Norton journeys to redefine himself as a man in society will be sorely disappointed. Choke boasts far more laughs than the gritty and dour Fight Club. In fact, it is tempting to describe Choke as an unusually smart comedy about sex. Sex is the center point around which Victor’s life revolves. And while it is certainly the root of his unhappiness, it has also given him an unusual, but surprisingly insightful, view on relationships, as evidenced when Victor is caught by his boss (played with priggish hilarity by the Choke’s writer/director Clark Gregg) in an intimate act with the object of his boss’ unrequited affections.
But Choke is perhaps more than just a comedy about sexual addiction. As the film fills in his rather unusual upbringing by his mother, we begin to see the root causes of Victor’s addiction to emotionless sex with near strangers. As he slowly realizes why he has avoided emotional relationships in favor of detached couplings solely for physical climax, he finds himself on the never smooth road of reinventing himself. And with such a redefinition, Choke perhaps has more in common with Fight Club than would appear at first glance.
Huston’s performance here is so good that that it serves to annoy us that we don’t see her in more films. As Victor’s mother, we see her as tragically frail, in the grips of growing senility, trapped knowing that she us addressing people by their wrong names but powerless to correct herself. In contrast, during the flashbacks to Victor’s youth, we see a brash and gutsy woman, keenly intelligent though unaware of the effect her decidedly non-traditional parenting is having on young Victor. Huston manages to make connections between these two disparate points in her character’s life that adds a depth and shading to her overall performance.