Blue Bayou Review : The Song is the Better

The magical setting of the Louisiana Bayou is the setting of a much deeper problem, immigrants being shunned away from their homes. The country they love has turned its back on them.

Alicia Vikander (left) stars as "Kathy" and Justin Chon (right) stars as "Antonio" in BLUE BAYOU, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

When a Korean immigrant faces deportation it pushes his family to the brink of despair, leading him to try anything in one final attempt.

Stories about the tribulations of life, a recipe for success almost all the time; they are so close to home, so matter of fact that we are drawn to their auras with such romanticism, their endearing qualities and touching family moments are something we all crave. Not only that, there is a certain eerie but magical quality that comes with the backdrop of a Southern state such as Louisiana, and Blue Bayou uses that impoverished location with a magnetism; willing, trying its best to pull you in, with varying degrees of success. The use of immigrants and the difficulties these people have in finding work is something current right around the world, yet something about this backdrop with its close-knit community feel and underhanded racism makes it that much harder for an honest man to just feel accepted – where’s the harm in an easy existence?

Filmed in a purposefully amateurish style, with a blue hue guiding it throughout, as well as being rugged, rough, messy, and unkempt, it gave me The Florida Project vibes whilst watching it, due to the setting and the relationship with the daughter – although these two films are on completely different levels of quality. Even though the story is meaningful and really does try to be impactful – which it sort of is – it does get bogged down with a very pungent melodrama feel, slightly over the top and dramatic, which overpowers the actual story itself.

The film itself was met with much controversy, apparently using stories (with one man claiming it is based on his life) without consent, even though Justin Chon says the film is an accumulation of many different stories, who to believe? Who knows, but the film industry is a platform for stories such as this to see the light of day. I’m sure the personal issues around this aren’t dead and buried quite yet.

Blue Bayou stars director Justin Chon as Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean adoptee raised in a small town in the Louisiana bayou. Antonio is married to Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and raises her daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske) as his own. Struggling to create a heavenly life for his family, he must soon confront his own bleak origins as he is threatened with deportation from the only country he has ever called home. Chon says he based the film on true stories he has heard from Korean adoptee friends, as well as research which revealed a much broader crisis for Asian American adoptees of a certain age. It is a strange situation that America forces on these people, it’s almost like the country wasn’t built on the success of its immigrants from all over the world, but that’s for another day.

An important moment for the film is when Vikander sings a lovely rendition of the film’s titular song “Blue Bayou” by Roy Orbison – but made famous by Linda Ronstadt – it transforms the film slightly, offering us a break from the dramedy and giving it a sense of melancholy. There are often moments like this littered throughout; many dream like sequences that are sporadic, you don’t quite understand what they mean until more of the story is revealed and then their representation becomes clear – very tranquil and much needed in an otherwise slow film.

I think the biggest problem with the film is how incredibly over dramatic it all is, especially the ending (although I’m sure such a thing would be heart breaking), and this is magnified by the performances; a little bit too strong, a bit too emotional, and although the performance by Sydney Kowalske as Jessie was mature, it was far too much (I find it hard to criticize a child’s performance but here I am), it was the epitome of everything I’m trying to say.

Blue Bayou overall is a nice little film with a lovely heartfelt message, a powerful projection of true events (even if slightly controversial) that will certainly tug on a few heart strings. The aesthetic was pleasing and aided to its unique style and its rawness – a blue overlay for the blue bayou. It tried to focus on the power of family through thick and thin, and you do get that, but it becomes submerged in its own subject matter that it doesn’t quite enter the top tier of family dramas.

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