Thursday, September 16, 2021

Blue Bayou - Review

The issue-driven drama can be tricky. When effective, it can shine a light on a community facing continuous injustice through the power of storytelling on the biggest screen possible. When handled poorly, the results can be damaging instead, turning a real-life tragedy into a set of events that seemingly could only happen with a camera there to capture it. In many ways, Blue Bayou falls into both categories, as the heartfelt attempts to portray this story are commendable, but it often gets bogged down in its own melodrama. 

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 (Sydney Kowalske). 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.

In spite of its shortcoming, and there is plenty more to come on that, Blue Bayou does feature some good performances. The director himself, Justin Chon, stars as Antonio, a man that’s at risk of being removed from the place he’s lived for nearly thirty years. It’s an understated performance, but Chon does so much with his eyes that you feel the pain and history that came before the cameras started rolling. Opposite him, making the most of the suffering wife role, is Alicia Vikander, whose presence is always felt even if she doesn’t get much to do. They’re an interesting couple, and their love feels real, even throughout this tumultuous fight against the American justice system.

But that’s where the truly good elements mostly end. There are a few good to great scenes here or there, particularly a charming stop at another family’s barbecue that features a reluctant performance of the titular song from Vikander’s character, but the rest gets so weighed down by its aspirations to be so many different things. There’s subplots that are introduced that could’ve easily been left off if there was any thought to telling a more focused story. There’s an added villain that might as well be twirling his mustache with how cartoony and out of place he feels in this story. There’s just too much material here to sustain a coherent narrative, and the good parts get left in the gold because of it. 

The most disappointing part of Blue Bayou is that there is a good film in here somewhere. Buried under the veil of melodrama is a story of one man trying to escape a series of events that falls onto so many individuals in real life, but that’s not enough apparently for Chon. Instead, we get about thirty extra minutes of movie to fill in pieces that don’t feel necessary in the slightest. In a time where every piece of media has something to say, Blue Bayou winds up saying nothing at all. 

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