Blue Bayou

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Blue Bayou Movie Poster Image
Powerful indictment of U.S. immigration system; language.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes the importance of belonging and family and argues the unfairness of not allowing foreign-born adopted individuals to become U.S. citizens. Encourages empathy, compassion, and perseverance; understanding various immigrant experiences; and understanding the unique perspectives of international adoptees.

Positive Role Models

Antonio is a dedicated father and husband, but he makes an iffy decision out of desperation to help his family. Kathy is a loyal and loving wife and mother. Parker is generous and kind.

Diverse Representations

Follows an Asian American adoptee and features another Asian family in a supporting capacity, as well as a few Black characters and more prominent White characters. In addition to racial and ethnic diversity and the centering of a cross-racial adult adoptee, the movie also focuses on a working-class/blue-collar character.

Violence

Antonio tearfully recalls being beaten repeatedly by his foster father, who was also an abusive husband. A hot-headed police officer uses excessive force leading to an arrest; later, in an extrajudicial manner, he has two friends help him beat a character bloody -- that character can barely walk afterward. Men smash their way into a motorcycle dealership to steal bikes. In flashback, a young mother tries to drown her infant son but stops. Antonio tries to drown himself by riding his motorcycle into a lake. A character with cancer gets weaker, later dies. Upsetting, tear-filled separation between family members.

Sex

Married adults dance, embrace, and kiss.

Language

Frequent strong language includes lots of uses of "f--k," "s--t," "motherf----r," "a--hole," "bitch," "damn," and more.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Antonio smokes (cigarettes or marijuana, it's unclear). Other adults are shown smoking either cigarettes or a joint. People drink beer and other alcohol at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blue Bayou is a searing, gut-wrenching indictment of the U.S. immigration system. It follows a loving Asian American husband and stepfather who's facing deportation because of paperwork and policy mistakes in the international adoption process. Written, directed, and produced by star Justin Chon, the movie focuses on the unique experiences of international adoptees who were brought to the United States as infants and children but aren't full citizens, through no fault of their own. Expect a lot of strong language (mostly "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch"), some scenes of violence (including at the hands of law enforcement), and discussion of domestic abuse. There's also upsetting family separation, a suicide attempt, and a character who's dying of cancer. Adults smoke (both cigarettes and weed) and drink.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
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Adult Written byEmmanuel Vuma October 11, 2021

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What's the story?

BLUE BAYOU begins with New Orleans-based tattoo artist Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon) looking for a second job without any luck due to his nonviolent criminal record. He needs another gig to cover his tattoo parlor fees, as well as to provide for his pregnant wife, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), and young stepdaughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). Antonio was adopted from Korea at age 3 by a White couple, and he's got little connection to his Korean birth culture. When Kathy's ex, Ace (Mark O'Brien) -- a New Orleans Police Department officer who left the family years earlier but now wants a relationship with Jessie -- and his partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), bump into the LeBlancs at a store and initiate a confrontation, Antonio ends up arrested. What neither Antonio nor Kathy understands is that his late adoptive parents never correctly processed him for citizenship, so he's technically undocumented. And so he's turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. Suddenly the LeBlancs are forced to face the possibility that Antonio could be sent back to South Korea. Meanwhile, Antonio meets Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a kind Vietnamese American woman who reminds him of the motherly and family bonds he missed as a child.

Is it any good?

This poignant, powerful family drama eventually slips into melodrama but, thanks to standout performances, remains an important and authentic immigration narrative. Chon continues to center Korean American perspectives in his films by tackling a little-known group of people: international adoptees who aren't technically citizens because their adoptive parents (and adoption agencies) failed to properly file the paperwork. Chon purposely doesn't make Antonio perfect. Yes, he has a nonviolent criminal record (which is the reason he's fast-tracked for deportation), but he's so much more than that. He's a loving, thoughtful, and playful stepfather to his beloved stepdaughter and a doting husband. The first half of Blue Bayou feels very naturalistic, with scenes of domestic life that almost seem improvised (particularly all of Chon and Kowalske's moments on-screen).

A story in which class and race intertwine, Blue Bayou veers a bit into melodrama once Antonio is beaten and arrested. Cohen's cop character, Denny, delights in being sadistic, believing himself untouchable thanks to the thin blue line. O'Brien's Ace, however, is portrayed and written with more nuance. But the film's best supporting character is Parker, a stranger who pops into Antonio's life a couple of times (asking for a tattoo on a day that he's particularly desperate for a client) and quickly becomes a maternal figure. Phan is luminous in the role, exuding the warmth and tenderness that no one else shows Antonio but Kathy and Jessie. Vikander is nearly unrecognizable as Kathy, a wife whose sole purpose is to keep her family together. This isn't an easy film to watch; it's heartbreaking at times and a tad heavy-handed in others. But it's also another example of Chon's gift for asking audiences to empathize with his characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Blue Bayou. Do you think realistic violence impacts viewers differently than stylized or superhero violence?

  • Which characters model compassion, empathy, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • Discuss the representation of Asian Americans in the movie. What is Antonio's relationship to his Korean roots? How does that compare to Parker and her family's connection to their Vietnamese heritage?

  • Talk about the explanation of immigration issues that certain international adoptees face. Did you know it was possible for foreign-born adoptees to not be considered U.S. citizens? What is the movie's message about how they're treated?

  • How are the police depicted in the movie? Why is (or isn't) it believable that cops take liberties with their power? What's notable about Ace's behavior toward his partner?

Movie details

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