“BLUE BAYOU” the newest film written and directed by Justin Chon, chooses a daunting subject to show in his new film about a Korean-American, Antonio LeBlanc (also played by Chon), who is fighting for his family and his status as a US citizen.
Adopted from Korea at the age of 3, Antonio lives in Louisiana. He speaks fluid English. He is married to a US citizen, and he and his wife are expecting their first child. He is also stepfather to Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), the daughter of his wife, Kathy (Alicia Vikander).
Also in the picture is Ace (Mark O’ Brien), Kathy’s ex and while he is a officer of the law, he also has domestic issues and a load of jealousy towards Antonio as Jessie, his daughter, only wants Antonio as her dad. This all leads to a confrontation between himself, Antonio and partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), to unjustly instigate an arrest and physically attack Antonio – which then begins a chain reaction. Antonio’s record is flagged by ICE, and he is threatened with deportation. Incredibly it becomes clear that Antonio’s adopted parents, who abandoned him into the foster system after only 6 months, did not fill out the proper paperwork to make him a naturalized citizen.
Kathy and Antonio seek the counsel of Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall) a lawyer, who informs them that before the year 2000, US foreign adoption laws were very ill defined, and in many cases immigration paperwork was never filed by adopting parents. That and his prior criminal record, struggling to support his family by being a tattoo artist, are all obstacles in his path. So despite being married and in the United States for over thirty years, Antonio still finds it difficult to check off the the most basic of requirements on a form to appeal the decision.
The intense acting and generally good cinematography are the strengths of the film. The regional accents and a certain performance of the namesake song itself are standouts (though definitely not Linda Ronstadt type standards). But there are diverging subplots all over the place, all detracting from the main theme. Sometimes the character aspects don’t ring true and with all due respect to Chon’s clear passion for the project, the script could have benefitted from some help making it not so scattered and more about how this is tragedy of life is actually happening. Instead we get consistent flashbacks to Antonio’s past and life of crime, making you question his decision to go back to that. He also has a friend in I.C.E who is all seemingly unaware what is happening to his friend. Then there is the random friendship between Antonio and Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a Vietnamese refugee and a cancer patient in her dying days. All this takes away from the subject matter at hand and left me with more questions than it ever answered. – how does this happen? how can a child be adopted here and not given automatic citizenship? That is the story that I went into expecting to find out about and wanted to know.
On another thought for me is while Vikander is without a doubt one of the most talented actresses of her generation, emulating accents is not her strongest suit. So while the emotion is there for the character, she is not entirely credible as a Southerner. By contrast, Sydney Kowalske is a brilliant fit to play the character‘s daughter. Not only does she look like Vikander, she also provides the all the heart of the film. If it were not for the scenes in which Antonio and Jessie show such love and a bond for one another, you would be hard-pressed at times to find redeemable qualities in his behaviour — which in turn can be almost detrimental as it’s a film that depends on the audience to be invested in his fate. And sometimes it just lost track of that and honestly for me, the true importance of this subject.
Note: stay for the credits as it names way too many names of people currently facing deportation under this outdated law.
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“BLUE BAYOU” from Focus Films – is only in theaters on Friday, September 17, 2021
Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR