Korean-born Antonio LeBlanc lives with his wife Kathy and stepdaughter Jessie in a Louisana town on the Bayou. With a baby on the way and outstanding fees at the tattoo parlour where he works, the protagonist applies for a second job, but his criminal record is a stumbling block. After a public altercation with his stepchild‘s biological father – who happens to be a police officer – the family man is investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As his foster parents did not keep up with the legal paperwork for his adoption, he is suddenly facing the threat of deportation.
Starring in Blue Bayou is Twilight alumni Justin Chon, who also wrote and directed the film. With all due honour to his passion for the project, the script could have benefitted from a more seasoned co-writer. The dialogue is too straightforward, without room for nuance or subtext. It is especially unrealistic when the young girl precisely emotes every thought and feeling (“I’m afraid you will love the new baby more than me because she is yours.”)
Another head scratcher is the decision to cast the quintessence of a cultured European as Kathy. Though Alicia Vikander is without a doubt one of the most talented actresses of her generation, emulating accents is not her strongest suit. While the emotional trajectory of her performance is seamless, she is not entirely credible as a lower-class Southerner. Nonetheless, she is engaging to watch and viewers are finally treated to her singing voice in a haunting rendition of the titular song.
By contrast, Sydney Kowalske is a brilliant fit to play the character‘s daughter. Not only does the actress bear a physical resemblance to Vikander, she also provides the feature its heart. If not for the scenes in which Antonio parents Jessie, one would be hard-pressed to find redeemable qualities in his behaviour — which in turn would be detrimental to a picture that depends on the audience to be invested in his fate. But the paternal relationship is what gives Blue Bayou the impact needed for a drama about the inhumane separation of families.
Blue Bayou does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Blue Bayou here: