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Mama's Boy 

We hear a lot about sex addicts these days — celebrities mostly. Michael Douglas was a sex addict. Then he divorced his wife and married Catherine Zeta-Jones, and you don't hear that he's a sex addict anymore. David Duchovny is married to Tea Leoni, but the rags say he's a sex addict. I like Leoni, so I hope that doesn't mean Duchovny will have to divorce her and marry Catherine Zeta-Jones in order to get cured.

Evidently there are sex addicts who aren't celebrities. These are people who like to have intercourse with complete strangers in airplane restrooms and other uncomfortable places. I worry about sex addicts who aren't celebrities because I suspect it is highly unlikely they are going to get to marry Catherine Zeta-Jones to be cured. Actually, I have always thought these airplane intercoursers lived only in the letters section of Penthouse magazine. But maybe they really exist, because writer/director Clark Gregg has made a movie about them called Choke, a hit entry at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke is the story of sex-addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell in another endearingly quirky role), a medical school dropout who supports himself by working at an open-air museum where he pretends to be an Irish indentured servant living in colonial America. This seems to be a pretty cool job. Sometimes he escorts a bunch of visitors around the museum's various buildings, and sometimes he has sex with Ursula (Bijou Phillips) the milkmaid in the barn. Victor's best friend Denny (Brad William Henke) also works at the open-air museum and is also a sex addict. Denny plays the miscreant who is placed in stocks every morning, and this is a good idea because Denny is an incessant masturbator, so his job keeps his hands off himself for at least eight hours a day.

When Victor isn't working, he frequently attends group counseling sessions for sex addicts. He isn't looking to be healed " Catherine Zeta-Jones never attends; rather, he's looking for prime hook-up partners. And every session ends with Victor in the bathroom doing very nasty things with whomever. One can't help but note that for all the urgent heat these encounters generate, the pleasure they deliver is instantly evanescent. Denny attends these Sex Addicts Anonymous sessions as well but never hooks up with anyone, which is too bad, since that would more or less alleviate his compulsion.

Victor's other major activity is visiting his ailing mother Ida (Anjelica Huston), who is suffering from dementia and is now confined to a Catholic mental facility that's so expensive Victor has to supplement his income by pretending to choke to death in order to solicit money from the rich people who 'save his life" with the Heimlich maneuver. Victor's mother is so far gone that she always mistakes her son for a lawyer friend in whom she wants to confide all her misgivings about Victor. These visits are so stressful that Victor can only find relief by having sex with every female employee at the hospital except for the mother superior and Ida's new attending physician, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald). Victor wants to have sex with Paige (actually, he wouldn't rule out the mother superior either), but he finds that he likes Paige, a situation which produces an uncommon performance anxiety.

All of this sounds like developments aplenty, but I have revealed only the barest outline. The picture takes us into Victor's unusual childhood and his complicated relationship with Ida, who emerges as a clearly loving mother but an extremely rebellious and eccentric person. In one scene, Ida drags Victor into a zoo where she produces bolt cutters and begins setting the animals free. Elsewhere, Denny lands a beautiful girlfriend in stripper Cherry Daiquiri (Gillian Jacobs), who, like every other character in this movie, is a lot more than she first seems.

Viewers uncomfortable with blunt depiction of sexual activity are advised to give this film a pass. I will admit that a couple of scenes tested the limits of my own tolerance. And frankly, I worry that some choppy editing moments indicate that an uncut version that might later show up on video is raunchier yet.

On the whole, though, I liked this film a lot. It is wildly imaginative and constantly surprising. Victor's sex addiction is unattractive, but his core decency is revealed in his devotion to his mother. In short, the picture has humor and heart in proportions that mainstream Hollywood infrequently delivers.

click to enlarge Denny (Brad William Henke) and Victor (Sam Rockwell) are co-workers and fellow sex addicts in Choke. - 2008 FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
  • 2008 Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Denny (Brad William Henke) and Victor (Sam Rockwell) are co-workers and fellow sex addicts in Choke.
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