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Review: Blue Bayou (2021)

Blue Bayou (2021)

Directed by: Justin Chon

Premise: An undocumented Korean-American immigrant (Justin Chon) is threatened with deportation. He tries to preserve his life and his family while facing his troubled past and striking up a friendship with a terminally ill woman.

What Works: Blue Bayou is a politically-minded drama. The film is intended to take on the issue of deportation and expose the arbitrary and illogical nature of the United States’ immigration system. The story focuses on Antonio, a Korean-American who was adopted as a toddler but never went through the proper naturalization process. Antonio is married to a United States citizen (Alicia Vikander) and the couple has a baby on the way. Despite his deep ties to the country, Antonio is set to be deported and he must find a way to keep his family together. When political films succeed, it’s usually because they are successful dramas. Blue Bayou does well in this regard. The heart of the film is the family drama and the triangular relationship between Antonio, his wife, and his stepdaughter (Sydney Kowalske). The family relationships come across authentic and the deportation process is heartbreaking. Blue Bayou successfully pushes the right dramatic buttons to elicit the audience’s outrage and sympathy. The film also has a vivid sense of place. The story takes place in New Orleans and the filmmakers use the setting effectively, giving the movie a distinct flavor. The music by Roger Seun helps in this regard, utilizing elements of the jazz music associated with New Orleans. Blue Bayou is also well shot and edited, combining gritty handheld camerawork with more stylized inserts.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Blue Bayou detract from their argument by largely ignoring the legal morass of immigration law. The story is poised to take Antonio and his family through a system whose rules appear to be arbitrary and defy common sense. Dramatizing that mess has great dramatic and rhetorical potential but the bureaucracy is kept at a distance. Instead we’re given a handful of scenes with the couple’s lawyer (Vondie Curtis-Hall) explaining the inequities of the law. Blue Bayou also suffers from some lazy storytelling decisions. The plot relies on some unlikely coincidences such as characters accidentally showing up at the same place. The police officers are depicted as cartoonish rubes especially the oafish partner played by Emory Cohen. Character assassination may be part of the film’s rhetorical design but these are straw men. The climax of the film includes some stupid and forced plot twists that draw the focus away from the immigration system conflict, undermining the story and the film’s political point.  

Bottom Line: Blue Bayou is an overall well-made drama that makes its political point. The movie and its argument suffer from some bad storytelling decisions, especially in the film’s final stretch, but it works as a family drama and the domestic story dovetails into the movie’s political agenda.

Episode: #870 (September 26, 2021)