BLUE BAYOU (2021)
I love a good social commentary film, especially when it focuses on underrepresented groups. Justin Chon’s previous films, including Gook and Mrs. Purple, are some of my favorites, so Blue Bayou will ideally be right up my alley. However, I’m always prepared for disappointments, and I never go into a film expecting it to be great.
Chon once again delivers a cinematic masterpiece. The mood is instantly set with an intense color palette that morphs from light to dark throughout the film. Chon expertly gets the most out of his cast, frequently relying on close-ups to make viewers feel the range of emotions the characters are experiencing. Very few films entirely engulf me in their stories thanks to their cinematography and direction, but Blue Bayou manages the impossible in a variety of ways.
Antonio LeBlanc (Chon), who was adopted from Korea in the 1980s by white parents, attempts to support his family with a criminal record while living in Louisiana. After another arrest, LeBlanc discovers his parents never finalized his citizenship, which leads to the U.S. government attempting to deport him. With the help of his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and unbreakable bond with his stepdaughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), Antonio fights for his right to stay in the U.S.
The Asian community in the South and people facing deportation after spending almost their entire lives in the U.S. are both underrepresented groups in the American story, and Chon shines light on both communities to raise awareness about issues they face. At times gut-wrenching, I would question the empathy of anyone who doesn’t get choked up at least once during the film, with the film focusing on nuances for both groups in places where they’re often viewed as “the other.”
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Again, Chon gets the most of his actors, and delivers one hell of a performance as Antonio. Grief, anguish, anger and happiness are fully expressed by all actors throughout the film, and I don’t think the film could have used a better cast. Besides Chon, Vikander skillfully plays his conflicted wife, dedicated to keeping her family together at any cost. Kowalske is sure to have a long career as a child actress, giving Dakota Fanning vibes for her ability to handle such emotional source material.
Supporting cast members, including Mark O’Brien and Linh Dan Pham, push what could potentially feel too on the nose into a gripping, dramatic must-see. My only complaint is the underutilization of Pham, whose dramatic acting talents aren’t seen nearly enough by American audiences; however, her scenes pack a punch, and she makes her mark whenever we see her.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The tattoo work throughout the film is impressive, with most people not noticing it’s makeup unless they’re especially eagle-eyed. The set design is spot on, with viewers easily believing every character’s backwoods origin story. The design and makeup teams perfectly set the mood of the film, and I don’t foresee anyone finding anything to complain about.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Featuring an eclectic mix of music, the score is spot on for the film. It never feels demeaning or like it’s attempting to overpower the storyline (something a lot of other dramatic filmmakers should take into consideration). My attention span isn’t great (just ask my best friend), and I tend to get pulled out of a film easily if the score doesn’t fit; however, I can proudly report never once feeling distracted during my time in the Blue Bayou world.
Simply superb, this film is bound to leave you blubbering like a baby as it did me (I won’t reveal whether these are tears of happiness or sadness). I hate making Oscar predictions, but I truly believe Blue Bayou is more than worthy of an awards sweep. Never hollow or sanctimonious, Blue Bayou’s dramatic telling of undocumented immigrants in America (through no fault of their own) is sure to make anyone think long and hard about the society we know.