With a new daughter on the way, a stepdaughter that is finding adjustment difficult, and financial troubles, Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon) is finding life challenging enough, the last thing he expects is to be facing deportation. Yet when he is hassled by police (one of whom is his wife’s ex-boyfriend) he finds himself imprisoned by ICE and facing the very real possibility of being sent to Korea, despite the fact that he’s been in the US since he was three and legally adopted.
Despite its over-sentimental style and its lack of focus, Blue Bayou does present an interesting insight into the Asian-American experience. There is a genuineness to the presentation overall, as it looks into this bureaucratic nightmare as people that have been in America for all of their adult lives, legally adopted by Americans, and only speak English, are threatened with deportation as illegal immigrants. It seems like an Orwellian fever dream, but becomes less fanciful when the names and cases of actual people are displayed on screen.
Chon’s Antonio LeBlanc is a complex character, allowed to be multiple contradictory things simultaneously. He is a good man – generous, caring, and loving to his family. Yet he is also a thief – troubled by his past, overly proud, and a petty grifter. That lack of simple dualism is where Blue Bayou does shine. It allows a more complex exploration of character and experience, one that is a core message to it as a film – don’t judge a book by its cover. In the opening scene, we see Antonio describe in vivid detail his upbringing, his French-based surname, and decades in America, before being asked that patronising question – where are you from originally?
However, that more nuanced portrayal of character is not something Blue Bayou extends to everyone. A number of the characters are two dimensional and cliched. One of the antagonistic police officers especially comes across as a dated bumbling stereotype straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard, carrying out idiotic abuses of power. Of course, given the events surrounding the death of George Floyd (and numerous others), it’s hard to argue that this may not be accurate, but it does feel exceptionally heavy-handed on film.
Blue Bayou also feels like it is covering too much ground here, and dealing with two stories melded together. Antonio’s attempt to avoid deportation, and his connection with a dying Vietnamese woman (played by Linh Dan Pham), never seem to marry up. That’s not to say it doesn’t serve a purpose, giving the character an insight into a more traditional Asian family heritage, something he feels that he’s missed, but the two stories never seem to flow organically into each other. As such, the film can drag, and at just under two hours, runs a little long.
Blue Bayou is a flawed piece, but it does offer a chance to hear a unique voice speaking about specific cultural experiences.