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film review

Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske and actor/writer/director Justin Chon in Blue Bayou, a love story centred on a Korean-American adoptee named Antonio LeBlanc.Courtesy of Focus Features/Focus Features

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  • Blue Bayou
  • Written by Justin Chon
  • Directed by Justin Chon
  • Starring Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske, Mark O’Brien, Linh-Dan Pham
  • Classification 14A; 112 minutes
  • Available in theatres Sept. 17

Blue Bayou is firstly a film about international adoptees, lack of citizenship and deportation in the United States. As writer, director and lead actor Justin Chon conveys with his poignant performance, there is much emotional ground to cover in a story about facing a forced return to a purported homeland one has never really known.

The film is also an interracial love story centred on a Korean-American adoptee named Antonio LeBlanc, a rebellious figure with a Louisianan accent and a white stepdaughter to underscore his American-ness.

It is a story about the systemic racism of immigration policy – one that is propelled by Antonio’s visits to lawyers and courtrooms to battle the odds stacked against him in his deportation fight. The rifts that begin to show between him, his wife and his stepdaughter highlight the human consequences of deportation: How could a country tear a parent away from his child? Young actress Sydney Kowalske is crushing to watch as she bounces from joy, to denial, to sheer grief while the family’s fortunes ebb, and ebb some more.

Blue Bayou lays emotions on thick, with strong performances and dreamy cinematography.Courtesy of Focus Features/Focus Features

Blue Bayou is also about the strength of members of the Asian diaspora. When Antonio is befriended by a stranger (played by Linh-Dan Pham), she offers a welcome gateway to the significant Vietnamese community settled in Louisiana. The film’s best scene is a backyard party where Antonio and his family mingle with the community. Here, Alicia Vikander shines as his wife, as she serenades the crowd with a mournful-yet-hopeful rendition of the Linda Ronstadt song that gives the film its title.

The film lays emotions on thick, with strong performances and dreamy cinematography. The high points are devastating and show off Chon’s empathetic storytelling. But at its ebb, the film tries to do too much at once, spilling every which way. Blue Bayou’s messy structure feels almost like a mirror of the messy lives that inhabit it. Perhaps that’s by design.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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