review by Elias Savada, 30 August 2002
Back with her second concert film
-- after I'm the One That I Want -- master comedienne
Margaret Cho will have her many free-spirited fans roaring with
laughter within seconds and the rest of the audience hoping its
collective gut won't be spilling out into the aisles. Except for
that one gray-haired patron, obviously with something stuck up her
derriere, heard in the theater lobby after the film had ended, "That
was just dreadful. How can people think that's funny?" Obviously her
prissy Republican sentimentality would have been better served by
Charlton Heston in an N.R.A. promotional spot, but, given the film
was a free preview screening, why the heck did she stay through the
whole ninety-five minutes if she hated it so much? Sado-masochists
aside, it's apparent that some people will remain steadfastly
clueless in lieu of this healthy dose of wacky hysteria.
The rest of us have already clued
in on Cho's raunchy social commentaries, and her latest presentation
will certainly win over new converts. Simply put, she's a hoot.
Now I can't review Notorious
C.H.O. for its cinematic elegance or breathtaking vistas. It's
basically just a filmed performance, although director Lorene
Machado does add some nice bookends to the one-woman show, watching
the gloriously rainy day, expectant crowd as it shuffles into the
Paramount Theater in Seattle late last year, and later as it exits,
with everyone from the orchestra to the balcony reveling in an
evening of overstuffed entertainment. The stage is dressed with bare
necessity: five Greek columns, a stool, and a couple of bottles of
mineral water. Director of photography keeps Cho in focus, mostly in
closeup, thankfully only occasionally breaking for an audience
reaction shot. The gift to everyone else (i.e. those of us watching
in the movie theater), is a marvelously funny document presenting
Cho's large body of work and her bawdy take on politics, sex,
family, and other ripe targets. A good portion of screen time is
spent allowing for the roar of the audience to calm down from its
many fits of laughter. And that's quite okay, as you do need to
catch your breath that much.
There's a bonus South Park-ish
animated short subject at the head of the film, featuring Cho and a
black friend pontificating on racial misunderstandings and
disparaging labels. It's a brief, great sendoff, miles away from
Cho's cartoon contribution to Rugrats.
Often compared to Lenny Bruce and
Richard Pryor, among others, Cho mixes the grace of a bulldog, the
energy of a stand-up cyclone, and the irreverent sluttish pride of a
freewheeling comic genius. She doesn't get this from her parents,
Korean immigrants who raised the thirty-three-year-old Margaret in
San Francisco. More likely she was a child of her environment,
living and learning from the hippies, drag queens, and other '60s'
burnouts that bypassed her on Haight Street.
Margaret proudly shows her parents
on-screen as they scramble for words to explain their daughter to
the viewers. Margaret turns the table on her traditional mom,
scrunches up her face, squints her eyes, pitches up her voice, and
becomes…an amusingly impious alter-mom. This proud momma is one of
the many characters side-splittingly portrayed by Cho, yet still the
one with the most deserved screen time. Special treatment is given
to Julie, a whiny, dyslexic colon-hydro-therapist/amateur actress, a
loony, bubbly creation assisting Cho with her first colonic
irrigation (eeeww!). Cho's side-splitting approach to this "medical
procedure" is divinely entertaining. Equally inspired is her raucous
what-if commentary on the redneck male approach to having a woman's
period, mixing heavy flow days, the Super Bowl, old socks, coffee
filters, and the newspaper sports section.
When she's in self-mode, sans
extra-charestial makeup, she tears into all things American. Gays,
drag queens, prejudice, S&M sex clubs ("They're bossy!"),
video-store late fees, the elusive search for her G-spot (Mapquest
didn't help), sexual techniques (putting "Who's your daddy?" to much
better use than Dana Carvey in The Master of Disguise), and
food and obesity (reflecting on her younger days battling numerous
eating disorders). Even in this post 9/11 day and age, she proudly
talks of her lewd contribution to the Ground Zero rescue workers.
And the audience offers it patriotic approval.
There's never a dull moment here.
Yet within the laughter is a fair dose of self-esteem. Notorious
C.H.O. is a Genuine R.I.O.T.