3.5 / 5
What does it mean to be American? “Blue Bayou” asks this question through the story of Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon), of Korean descent, who was adopted by Americans when he was very young. Floating from foster home to foster home, Antonio only knew Louisiana. Despite this, when Antonio defends himself against police brutality, he is sent to an Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) center who examines his case and finds that Antonio’s adoptive parents never naturalized him. .
Antonio is now at risk of being deported from the country in which he grew up; all because of a clerical error completely out of his control. His life with his wife (Alicia Vikander), daughter-in-law (Sydney Kowalske) and newborn baby are in jeopardy. Since America doesn’t want him anymore, Antonio must find a way to pay the court costs while finding out what his identity really is.
Due to a bureaucratic loophole used by the US government to deport people, any pre-2000 adoptee must register for naturalization, resulting in exorbitant fees for people who wish to stay in a country that is their home. For years. The film draws on the true stories of many adopted Americans facing this ruthless practice. Focusing on the wickedness of American immigration policy, the film shows how ridiculous and inhumane American laws are. The US government is tearing apart families and uprooting lives because of outdated laws and cynical politicians.
Beyond politics, Antonio’s life is ultimately about his family. Antonio is forced by an unfair policy to steal in an attempt to stay with Kathy and Jessie, his wife and stepdaughter. It is only until the birth of his own child that Antonio can actually touch someone with his flesh and blood. Antonio was abandoned by his parents, then abandoned by his adoptive parents, then abandoned by several foster homes. Finally, when he reaches adulthood and has his own family, his own country abandons him and threatens his new family as well.
How can you know your true identity if neither your family nor your country chooses to be with them? Being Korean but growing up among the Cajuns left Antonio feeling isolated and lost. Fortunately, Antonio meets a Vietnamese refugee, Parker Nguyen (Linh Dan Pham), who helps him discover what his identity might be. Antonio knows so little about East Asia, but thanks to Parker, he discovers what it means to be both Asian and American. The way all of these cultures compare and contrast allows Antonio to examine what the melting pot does to Asian heritage.
Immigrants, especially adoptees, need an affirmation of who they are and what their heritage means. Importing someone and inserting them into American society, expecting them to fit in, doesn’t work. Through Parker and Antonio, âBlue Bayouâ shows how important identities are to those who are stuck in cultural limbo.
The film’s setting, New Orleans, adds to this feeling of cultural emptiness. New Orleans is a perfect city to represent those who have lost their heritage. France, America and the Caribbean collide to create a city unlike any other, just as the cultural collision between two Asian countries with Louisiana creates two unique characters.
“Blue Bayou” also has a nice cinematography. The grainy aesthetic is reminiscent of 1970s movies while adding to the realistic look of Antonio’s story. Most of this film is shot with close-ups of the characters’ faces, which creates more privacy while inviting the audience to empathize and compassion, both for the characters and for the real victims who inspired the story.
Like all films, “Blue Bayou” is not without its flaws. The film could have used more focus. It tries to tackle a lot of topics and includes a lot of characters, which leaves parts of it feeling monotonous and underdeveloped. The plot also relies on clichÃ©s to tell the story, making parts of the film melodramatic.
Despite this, the film using familiar tropes to solve unique problems helps anchor the film. These people are like all Americans and have very similar experiences, but are not allowed to enter the country due to malicious bureaucracy and imaginary lines on a map.
“Blue Bayou”, while being a quintessentially Louisiana film, is about America as a whole, and this universality is what makes this film such a great watch.