Justin Chon’s new topical film is well-intentioned and might be considered a cousin to Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. With some striking, if distracting backdrops that wouldn’t be out of place in a Terrence Malick film.
But, the modestly mounted Blue Bayou runs amuck with the melodramatic aspects of its narrative losing its composure and any richer poignancy which the latter exuded through naturalism unfolding in rural Arkansas.
To his credit, Chon does imbue an honesty the milieu f his Korean-American adoptee Antonio LeBlanc whose immigration status becomes very tenuous after an altercation.
Intolerance (and downpours) confront Antonio in the Crescent City as he looks for mechanic employment when tattoo parlor isn’t cutting it for new wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander fo Ex Machina) and stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske). Jesse’s policeman father Ace (Mark O’Brien of Ready or Not) and his bigoted partner Denny (Emory Cohen of The Place Beyond The Pines) help set in motion a sense of righteous indignation.
Here’s a situation that works from familiarity (about undocumented citizens) with promise to thematically reinforce notions concerning as felonious past, culture and identity. And, in doing so Chon abates the impact of the heart-wrenching. As Antonio struggles to get assistance from a pricey attorney (Vondie Curtis-Hall), not to mention encouragement from an ailing client (Linh Dam Phan).
While stricken in cliche from contrivance or hardly enough deftness. Blue Bayou is watchable notably in its domestic coping. It’s hard not to be lost in emotion for awhile in familial conversations. Kowalske and a more cogent, less elegant Vikander (who has a stand-out rendition of the titular, original Roy Orbison recording at a cookout, who knew Kathy had such a voice ?) fare well. A Chon (who capitalized on being in the Twilight saga pictures) offers some tone-down unflappable qualities of an uneasy, unguarded provider meant to be comforting .
Unfortunately, committed grace notes aren’t enough for a meaningful examination of important social issues when indiscriminate tendencies manifest with nearly all subtlety deported.