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Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a sex-addicted med-school dropout, keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), in an expensive private medical hospital by working days as a historical re-enactor at a Colonial Williamsburg theme park. At night Victor runs a scam by deliberately choking in upscale restaurants to form parasitic relationships with the wealthy patrons who "save" him. When Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of his father's identity, Victor enlists the aid of his best friend, Denny (Brad Williams Henke), and his mother's beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), to solve the mystery before the truth of his possibly divine parentage is lost forever. A satirical comedy written and directed by Clark Gregg, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club).
 

Choke by writer/director Clark Gregg

"If you're going to read this, don't bother. After a couple of pages, you won't want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you're still in one piece. Save yourself."

I first read those incendiary opening lines of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Choke in the summer of 2001 when I was submitted the soon-to-be published book as a possible screenwriting assignment. Already a fan of Fight Club, I eagerly sat down to read Palahniuk's dark comic fairy tale about a sex-addicted colonial theme park worker, Victor Mancini, who keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida, in an expensive private mental hospital by running a scam in which he deliberately chokes in upscale restaurants in order to form parasitic relationships with the wealthy co-dependent customers who "save" him. When, in a rare lucid moment, Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of his father's identity, Victor must enlist the aid of his best friend, Denny, a gigantic, sweet-souled chronic masturbator, and his mother's beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall, in order to solve the mystery of his possibly divine parentage before the truth is lost forever.

I devoured the blunt, hilarious book in one sitting and while I had expected Palahniuk's particular brand of irreverent satire, I was completely unprepared for his unflinching and yet deeply compassionate portrayal of the world of sexual addiction which serves as a surprisingly effective engine for the story's funny and somehow powerfully moving love story. It was like nothing I'd ever read. Or seen. So, though I had little to recommend me beyond some scant experience as a stage director, a half dozen indie film roles, and a very new career as a professional screenwriter, I immediately embarked on an admittedly improbable quest to adapt and direct the film version of Choke myself.

Fortunately, the material was as persuasive as I was passionate and after some begging, threatening and even a little stalking, I was able, with the help of wunderkind producer Beau Flynn, to option the book. After a brief phone conversation with the surprisingly affable and kind Palahniuk (Me: "I may be nuts, but I think it's like a punk romantic comedy." Chuck: "That's right. Go write it."), I set about crafting a screenplay. Seven years of grueling adaptation later, interspersed with marriage, a baby, and numerous other acting and writing jobs to pay the bills, the film version of Choke was finally ready to go into production. Just when it seemed there would be no way to make the movie on an ultra-low budget, we were able to secure financing for such controversial indie material, and we found a county in New Jersey with the vast abandoned mental hospital, dilapidated zoo and the deserted colonial village that the story required. So in July of 2007, with a dream cast led by Sam Rockwell (Victor), Anjelica Huston (Ida), Kelly Macdonald (Dr. Marshall), and Brad Henke (Denny), all of whom were willing to forego their trailers for padded "dressing rooms" in a sweltering sanitarium, Choke finally began shooting.

I hope that you'll see Choke. If our movie has captured even a fraction of the scorching anarchic humor and strange pathos of Chuck Palahniuk's book, then you'll be glad you did. To paraphrase Victor Mancini, "If this story doesn't touch you, then go ahead and touch yourself."