Blue Bayou: Too much melo in this drama

A worthwhile subject is undermined by everyone involved trying too hard

Blue Bayou
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Director: Justin Chon
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske, Mark O'Brien, Linh-Dan Pham, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Emory Cohen
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins

Take a spade with you. Once you have dug through the matted wads of ACTING, the lumpy tubers of FILMMAKING and the messy sumps of WRITING, you will encounter a well-researched, sincerely felt treatise on the cruel absurdities of the American immigration system. Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon, also the director) plays a Korean-American, adopted from the old country as a child, who, after a run-in with the police, unexpectedly finds himself facing deportation. His past criminal record doesn’t help. But, as an unmistakable American with a New Orleans accent that drips gumbo, he surely cannot be at risk of expulsion to a land he barely knows. Can he? He has a baby on the way. His wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) will stand by him.

If Chon had pared his own script back, laid off the pathetic fallacies and nudged away his influences – a bit of Terrence Malick here, some John Cassavetes there – we might have had the drama the awful truth deserves. But Blue Bayou is plain exhausting. On at least two occasions, characters fall into despair as rain hammers with a thundering obviousness that would cause the creators of video games to think twice.

The Super-16mm cinematography, all unnecessary judders and over-determined colour schemes, would seem mannered even if the filmmakers hadn’t left hairs hanging conspicuously in the film gate. (Yes, there is also sun flare. Thanks for asking.) The main thread of the script is efficient enough, but the loosely connected subplot concerning a terminally ill acquaintance strains the boundaries of good taste past breaking point.

The picture does remind us how a country built on immigration is now infected by bureaucratic sub-nativism

Still, you couldn’t say the actors aren’t trying ... During a particularly fraught emotional explosion, Vikander works so furiously at squeezing out tears one worries she may give herself an ocular hernia. The dilemma is they are dealing with characters who seem to know they are in a movie. Rather than exchanging thoughts, they sit down and deliver speeches to swamps and lakes. Nobody ponders when they can declaim.


And yet there is a reason for Blue Bayou to exist. For all the meretricious distractions, the picture does remind us how a country built on immigration is now infected by bureaucratic sub-nativism. It is not the only jurisdiction with that problem.

Opens on December 3rd

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist