Blue Bayou Review: Home is Where the Heart is

Blue Bayou

After two indie dramas set within Los Angeles’ Korean-American community, actor-director Justin Chon’s new film Blue Bayou focuses on an issue that’s currently affecting thousands of immigrants. That particular issue is an immigration “loophole” that, unfortunately, remains open to this day. It’s a loophole that states that immigrants adopted by American parents don’t necessarily mean that they are American citizens. This loophole has led to thousands of adopted immigrants being deported from the only home they’ve ever known.

Blue Bayou follows Antonio (Justin Chon), an ex-con who is having a hard time going straight while providing for Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and her daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). He’s not making much money, and Kathy is working while pregnant with the couple’s first child. Jessie’s natural father, Ace (Mark O’Brien) is a small-minded Lousiana cop who wants to see more of his daughter after abandoning them years before. When Antonio is arrested because of an altercation with Ace’s racist beat partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), Antonio is served with an order of deportation to South Korea, a country he left when he was three.


As Antonio comes face-to-face with the ideas of what makes someone American, he has to deal with the fact that he’s also a person of color—a trait that marks him as an easy target for attack.


Blue Bayou is admittedly not a subtle movie. It’s as outspoken and blunt as the Kafkaesque reality it’s trying to depict. Then again, there is nothing subtle about fighting to stay in the only place you’ve ever known. Besides, America is not the land of subtleties. It’s a country where it loves to alienate its people by grouping them into those that belong and don’t belong. Citizenship is not about choice but legality. As Antonio comes face-to-face with the ideas of what makes someone American, he has to deal with the fact that he’s also a person of color—a trait that marks him as an easy target for attack. That’s the heartbreaking part of this story. Like most immigrants, Antonio has chosen America as his home, but those feelings are not mutual.

Thus, much of the film revolves around the legal battle for Antonio to stay in America. There is already enough material in Antonio and Kathy’s legal fight to fill up the entire runtime. However, Chon has always preferred to tell stories about marginalized people with a “more is better” approach. This happens through his chance friendship with Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a Vietnamese-American woman dying of cancer. In the film, Parker helps Antonio reconnect with his Asian side, and though her scenes are relatively short, Parker is a welcome presence onscreen. She’s a character that contrasts the human cruelty that Antonio encounters daily. Unfortunately, Chon is unable to balance these tonally different storylines together. Its issues like these are what makes Blue Bayou stall in places where it should’ve skyrocketed.


Blue Bayou‘s greatest sentimental strength is its message about what makes a family a family.


Although Blue Bayou is a melodrama about the complicated legal immigration system, Chon fills the movie with a myriad of side stories to keep the film going. There is a lot that goes on within this almost 2-hour movie. For example, Antonio goes on a daring heist, has deep emotional issues with both his biological and adoptive mothers, and he also has to deal with Ace and his racist partner, Denny. This is on top of the family issues he has to go through with Kathy and Jessie. For this reason, Blue Bayou is at its best when it deals with family drama.

That’s because Blue Bayou‘s greatest sentimental strength is its message about what makes a family a family. Chon’s able to balance genuine family suspense with scenes of heartwarming tenderness that make his characters relatable to all. Not to mention, Chon’s deeply felt performance is Bayou‘s biggest draw. Antonio is a beautifully realized character whose pain is palpable through all of the sacrifices he makes. Chon treats the film with an intimacy that feels as if you’re a part of his journey too. At the same time, the chemistry with Alicia Vikander is infectious. Yet, it’s the young Sydney Kowalske that brings the waterworks as the heart of the movie.

Overall, Blue Bayou is a film that lacks any form of subtlety, but it’s a story that needs to be seen. The film takes several interesting detours to get to the heart of the matter, and most of the time it works. Yet one can’t deny the conviction of Chon’s message, and when the credits start rolling you can’t help but feel heartbroken by it all.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1702 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

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