I'm the One That I Want
2000, NR, 96 min. Directed by Lionel Coleman. Starring Margaret Cho.
REVIEWED By Bryan Poyser, Fri., July 14, 2000
Stand-up comedian Margaret Cho makes fun of her mother … a little bit. When Cho leans her head back at a disapproving angle, her eyes narrow to slits and her mouth turns down at the corners, opening and closing like a fish sucking at the air, her mother comes alive. The effect is hilariously unflattering and delivers most of the big laughs in Cho's new concert film. This is apparently the first time that Cho's mother has seen the impression on stage (we see her parents entering San Francisco's Warfield Theatre in very quick introductory sequence at the beginning of the film) and knowing that makes those moments even more outrageous. But you also get the idea that their relationship is an open and loving one that crosses their very obvious generational boundaries. After Cho's first homosexual experience while performing comedy on board a lesbian cruise-liner, her mother leaves a one-sentence message on her answering machine: “Are you gay?!” The amazing thing is not so much Mom's lack of tact, but that Cho told her about the experience in the first place. Cho's frankness about sex and all the sticky, uncomfortable feelings it can bring up extends to the audience as well. The first 20 minutes of the performance is devoted to Cho's proud declaration of her fag-hag status. Later, she explains how it was gay men who taught her the art of the efficient blowjob. Growing up in one of the most gay-friendly sections of San Francisco, Cho almost certainly inherited her sense of transgressive comedy from the drag queens and “out and proud” men that she knew as a kid. That is definitely one of the strengths of the show, the sense she creates that all of human sexuality is open to scrutiny and ridicule. The film moves into more personal, confessional material as she recounts her experiences as the first Asian-American sitcom star on ABC's short-lived show All-American Girl, and her post-cancellation descent into drugs and depression. Here, the spaces between the laughs get wider and she seems to lose the off-handed casualness that made the first part of the show so much fun to watch. As she describes this dark period of her life and the wake-up call she finally gave herself, her words sound more scripted, more rehearsed, almost as if she were repeating some mantra-like self-affirmation. Is this therapy for her or for us? Obviously it is both. However, the real joy of watching this movie is seeing a stand-up comedian who is incredibly comfortable with herself, her material, and her audience, and the “I-hit-rock-bottom-but-now-I'm-back” section of the performance threatens that rare connection.