Blue Bayou (2021)
Directed by: Justin Chon | 118 minutes | drama | Actors: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh-Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Emory Cohen, Geraldine Singer, Toby Vitrano, Altonio Jackson, Truong Quang Tran, Ivy Vy Le, Sage Kim Gray, Renell Gibbs, Jacci Gresham, Martin Bats Bradford, Tyler Henry
When Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon) in ‘Blue Bayou’ is asked where he comes from during a job interview, he answers honestly: “a small village in the bayou of Louisiana”, but the employer is not satisfied with this. answer. “No, I mean, where are you from?”, referring to Antonio’s Asian appearance. Antonio has been adopted. He feels American and yes, that name is correct. Whether it’s because of his background or his somewhat shady past (he has a criminal record), the job is passing him by.
Antonio is married to Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and they are expecting their first child together. Kathy already has a toddler daughter from a previous relationship (although that’s a big word), the precocious Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), for whom Antonio is her real daddy. The two love each other and when Kathy has to rest due to pregnancy complications, Antonio and Jessie head out together. Jessie worries that once the baby arrives, Antonio won’t love her anymore, but Antonio manages to clear the girl’s doubts. Love in abundance, but money is a problem in this family and you give them a chance to get it better.
Then something inevitable happens: something terrible that causes a flood of misery. Jessie’s natural father, Ace (Mark O’Brien), is a police officer and he demands more visitation rights than he has now. Kathy refuses to force her daughter – who categorically does not want to hang out with her biological father – and he uses his police uniform to intimidate the couple. Encouraged by this display of power, Ace’s co-worker, Denny (Emory Cohen), decides to provoke Antonio, causing Antonio to get in trouble and get arrested. Worse still, ICE (The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is tracking him down. It turns out that due to a loophole or call it the oversight or ignorance of his adoptive parents Antonio was not given US citizenship as a child. There is a good chance that he will be deported.
‘Blue Bayou’ is a drama that punches you in the stomach several times. There is so much injustice in the film: not only the ridiculous law that tears families like Antonio and Kathy’s apart, but also the fact that police officers who are decidedly unfit for their jobs can just go about their business, not to mention not to mention that Antonio’s adoptive parents took him to the orphanage within six months of his arrival from Korea as a three-year-old (how?!). Your heart cringes at the thought of such a kid being sent from foster home to foster home, until he ended up with an incapable family, whose husbands mistreated both him and his wife.
However, it is the small moments of love, beauty and friendship that make ‘Blue Bayou’ still viewable: between Antonio and Kathy, between Jessie and Antonio and – also very important – the growing friendship with the Vietnamese Parker (Linh-Dan Pham ), which introduces Antonio to a culture close to Korean, but very different from it at the same time. In addition to being a top actress, Alicia Vikander also appears to be able to sing very beautifully, as witnessed by her rendition of Linda Ronstad’s famous song, from which the film derives its title. In addition, the film is beautifully shot, with a confident use of colors, (natural) light and shadow. Set in New Orleans, Blue Bayou sees the sweltering climate permeate every pore of the film, both narratively and visually.
You can blame the maker (Justin Chon wrote, directed and played the lead role) for not being exactly subtle, especially in the finale of the film, where everything is done to make the viewer’s tear ducts work. (it does work) and there are certain characters that are portrayed very black and white, but as a whole ‘Blue Bayou’ is convincing. How idiotic it is that we live in a world where people aren’t allowed to be where they want to be, even if their environment wants them to be there. Note: The film is set before the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021 passed: before this, adoptees who were over 18 on February 27, 2001, do not automatically acquire citizenship. This law has now been passed.