Blue Bayou Synopsis: Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon) is a Korean adoptee raised in a small town in the Louisiana bayou. He’s married to the love of his life, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and raising his beloved stepdaughter, Jessie. Struggling to make a better life for his family, he must soon confront the ghosts of his past after learning that he could be deported from the only country he’s ever called home.
Similar to his Twilight peers, jack-of-all-trades Justin Chon has settled into his artistic comfort zone. Chon undertook a steady transition into writing/directing projects, with his first two features, Gook and Ms. Purple, intelligently confronting personal and societal dynamics with a visceral touch.
Chon’s latest project, Blue Bayou, takes a pertinent deep dive into the world-shattering ramifications behind the US’s proactive deportation efforts. Although not without some structural clumsiness, Blue Bayou affectionately wears its heart on its sleeve in an empathetic and resonant take on an all-too-common reality.
Three features into his career, Chon has already developed a distinctive voice behind the camera. Cinematographers Ante Cheng and Matthew Chuang team with Chon to construct viscerally intimate handheld camerawork. I love how the camera effortlessly swoops and flows like a character in the story. During Antonio’s moments of radiant joy and debilitating pain, the trio’s deft touch skillfully immerses viewers with affecting results. I give the craftsmen credit for never descending into overly mawkish tendencies – as Blue Bayou consistently balances vibrant visuals with a gentle, dramatic touch (a few subversive dream sequences also add a level of meditative beauty).
Chon’s screenplay spells its message loud and clear against the needless deportation of adoptees. While the screenwriter effectively integrates his societal quandary, it’s the nuances Chon captures under the surface that prove most impactful. The script effectively digs into the shadowing burden that follows Antonio in his day-to-day existence as an immigrant. As he weathers a storm of casual racism and challenges an ex-convict, Antonio’s most pressing struggle occurs within the character’s longing for a sense of home. Chon’s screenplay admirably wrestles with these conceits while avoiding the Hollywood theatrics that often defines films of this ilk.
The well-articulated themes come to life through Blue Bayou’s vibrant performances. Chon steeps himself sincerely into Antonio’s insular struggles, with the actor unearthing subdued textures from his range of worn-out and expressive reactions. While she may occasionally struggle with the New Orleans accent, Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander imbues potent gravitas as Antonio’s committed wife. Longtime character actor Linh Dan Pham shines as the standout of the bunch, reflecting equal parts empathy and despair as Antonio’s newfound acquaintance.
Blue Bayou earns its numerous tugs at the heartstrings, but some of the film’s execution comes with some unevenness. Chon’s screenplay can often feel didactic with some of its over-pronounced devices. Some characters – particularly a scuzzy police offer played with mustache-twirling menace by Emory Cohen – exist only to shout the film’s messages aloud. The loose plotting also suffers from moments of languid pacing, including a third act that takes several detours before its heart-wrenching conclusion.
Even with some foundational struggles, Chon’s dedication to his subject matter is ever-present in Blue Bayou. The writer/director/star effectively spotlights a long-overdue conversation with equal parts heart and empathy.
Blue Bayou is now playing in select theaters.
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