Monday, September 20, 2021


Now in theaters:

Blue Bayou--Antonio LeBlanc is a motorcycle-riding tattoo artist in New Orleans. His inked-up badass look belies a gentle, loving nature, and his name and accent belie his background; he was adopted from Korea. A couple of abusive foster homes later, he's struggling to help support his wife Kathy and an adoring stepdaughter, and they have a baby on the way.

A bad encounter with the cops gets Antonio arrested, and then, insanely, his case is transferred to ICE, and he finds himself facing deportation. "I was adopted by white people," he says plaintively, sure that this should count for something.

Written and directed by Justin Chon, who also movingly plays Antonio, this social melodrama in the grand '30s-era Warner Brothers tradition dramatizes a real and baffling immigration outrage. Certain foreign adoptees, especially Koreans who turned 18 before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, have been deported, others are facing deportation, often after living decades, essentially their whole lives, in the U.S. The story here, fictitious in its details, is amalgamated from true events.

If this movie did nothing more than shine a light on this addition to the list of U.S. immigration policy's cruelties, it would be commendable. But it's also a potent, absorbing weeper. Along with Chon's impressive turn as Antonio, Alicia Vikander has lovely tenderness as Kathy, as does Linh Dan Pham as a Vietnamese immigrant who befriends Antonio. Young Sydney Kowalske (could she be a descendant of famed New Orleans residents Stanley and Stella?) is a find as Kathy's daughter.

There's a certain drawn-out heaviness to the pace and the groaning music and the gauzy imagery of Blue Bayou, but the vitality of the actors more than overcomes it, even brings it some humor. And the subject matter kept me engaged. And enraged.

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