Too often, the news whitewashes the status of or the role that immigrants play in this country. They are a vital population, not necessarily looking for handouts, but to escape situations in their home countries that they have no control over, but affect them immensely.
Such is the case with Justin Chon’s “Blue Bayou,” hitting theaters today.
Antonio LeBlanc (Chon) is an immigrant living in New Orleans, an adoptee as a young boy from Korea. Together with his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and Kathy’s daughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske), Antonio works hard to make his ends meet. Kathy struggles with Jesse’s father, Ace (Mark O’Brien), a difference in opinion on Ace’s visitation rights.
Antonio is represented as someone with a troubled past, a rebellion, or perhaps even a rapscallion and as a tattoo artist, has the same impression on life, until he meets Parker (Linh Dan Pham). Together, they form a non-romantic bond that transcends their lives and their respective difficulties.
Chon strikes a beautiful pose with “Blue Bayou,” a message film reflecting on the state of this country’s treatment of immigrants. The film itself is not a message, rather an artful look at lives full of love, of the heart of commitment, of fear, and ultimately of sacrifice.
Antonio eventually learns that he is to be deported, a problem with his adoptive parent’s handling of his immigration status. Vondie Curtis-Hall plays their lawyer, Barry Boucher, who has to represent the ever-changing laws of this country with respect to immigration.
When Antonio learns what he must do, he needs to confront a past he is unwilling to face. Chon injects artful imagery to depict a shared life torn apart. Vikander stands out both for her singing abilities and, especially, her ability to defend herself and stand up for what’s right, both in the wrong context and the right context, depending on the situation.
Young Sydney Kowalske melts our hearts with her love for her adopted dad in Antonio. There is heart in their relationship and between Antonio and Kathy. That is truly what “Blue Bayou” is about: our hearts and our vulnerabilities when we confront a situation beyond our control. Emory Cohen plays Denny, an ICE Enforcement Officer, who is the friendliest man you’ll meet.
Reportedly, Chon based his screenplay on true stories from Korean friends who were adopted before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was passed. Without knowing this, the final title cards in the film felt a bit over the top. A better understanding of what the law does and how it impacts lives changed my feelings on the film, which were already high, but their inclusion initially dampened the spirit of the film. My hat’s off to Chon for telling this story now.
“Blue Bayou” is an emotionally riveting story, one that will leave a mark for years to come. It doesn’t suffer from a political bias, dealing strictly with the facts and the Deep South’s disrespect for foreign nationals.
Is “Blue Bayou” perfect? No, it has some missteps along the way. However, the story is so powerful, you overlook the smaller issues. And, whether the song is sung by Linda Ronstadt or Roy Orbison, the song, which is sung by Alicia Vikander in the film hold true: “I feel so bad I got a worried mind I’m so lonesome all the time Since I left my baby behind On Blue Bayou.”
Sing the rest of the song in your heart, it will leave as much of a mark as Chon’s “Blue Bayou” does. Now in theaters.
- Blue Bayou