Notorious C.H.O.

on June 28, 2002 by Christine James
   Deeming her act "outlaw" in an interview snippet that precedes this celluloid stand-up performance, comedian Margaret Cho hints that what is to come is a little more risqué than her famed riffs on feathered hair and imitations of her eccentric mother. The light-hearted wide appeal on display in her 1994 HBO special has segued through the raunchier, blunter but still accessible and often hilarious 2000 confessional/concert film "I'm the One That I Want" into an edgier, flippantly hardcore sensibility in "Notorious C.H.O.," a title that's an understatement to say the least, fixating somewhat darkly on sex, eating disorders and bottomed-out self-esteem.

   The gold rush of childhood anecdotes having already been largely mined, Cho is able to extract a few remaining nuggets but must intersperse them with depressingly dysfunctional accounts of her love life. These are hit-and-miss but do produce some laugh-out-loud zingers, though none that could be reprinted. (Even one that begins as innocently as, "Knock knock! Who's there? Chocolate!..." takes an NC-17 turn at the deliriously funny punchline, topped by Cho's own shocked reaction.)

   The simplistic camerawork, some awkward cuts and technical laziness (shots of the crowd intended to convey reaction and interaction are unapologetically shrouded in darkness) underline a sentiment that Margaret Cho has received short shrift. Cho, a clarion voice of reason in an unreasonable world, has a rare comic brilliance, incisiveness and relatability (she can even make S&M club anecdotes seem as harmless as airline peanuts jokes)--yet somehow is mired in the minor leagues. "Notorious C.H.O." won't do much to rectify this injustice, targeted as it is to her most--literally and figuratively-- hardcore fans, to the exclusion of audiences who prefer their blue humor this side of midnight. Starring Margaret Cho. Directed and produced by Lorene Machado. Written by Margaret Cho. A Wellspring release. Concert film. Unrated. Running time: 95 min

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