Antonio LeBlanc was brought to the U.S. from Korea when he was only three. He was then abandoned, bounced around in the foster-care system and eventually adopted … into a family with an abusive father. When he was old enough to get out the door, he set off into the streets of New Orleans as part of a gang stealing motorcycles.
Antonio’s life hasn’t been easy.
In spite of that troubled past and the subsequent felony charges that now keep him from getting a decent mechanic’s job, Antonio is currently a pretty happy guy.
He’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps, gotten the best job he can manage and even formed a truly loving family. He’s now happily married to a physical therapist named Kathy and a loving stepfather to her sweet 7-year-old daughter, Jessie. Not only that, but Kathy is pregnant, and they’re expecting another little girl.
In spite of those positive turns, however, other negatives soon slither into Antonio’s life. Jessie’s biological father, Ace, is a local cop who’s now demanding to be a part of his daughter’s world. Never mind the fact that she doesn’t know him and feels uncomfortable around him.
Worse still, Ace’s racist partner, Danny, purposely pushes Antonio to fight back when he and Ace come upon the family in a supermarket. Not only does that result in Antonio being bloodied and arrested, but then Danny takes it upon himself to bring Immigration and Customs Enforcement into the mix.
Because of the failure of Antonio’s adoptive parents to formalize his citizenship, he’s sentenced to be deported. Antonio and his family are left with few options. Not to mention a need for a $5,000 lawyer retainer fee.
Antonio must somehow find a way out of the bind he’s in if he hopes to hold on to the things of value in his life. But it looks as if his only options are connections from his past.
And that’s not going to be pretty.
Antonio has made mistakes in the past, and he makes more going forward. But at his core, we see that he’s a good man who loves his family dearly. Anthony does everything he can to work his way out of an impossible situation that isn’t fully his fault.
Jessie is afraid that Antonio will turn away from her when his “real” baby is born. But Antonio goes out of his way to prove that his tie with her is a loving, lifelong bond that won’t be broken.
Kathy and Jessie both love Antonio, too. Kathy is even willing to drop everything and move her daughters to Korea if Antonio is deported.
Antonio also tries to identify with how Ace is feeling as a dad who is separated from his daughter—in spite of the fact that the man had abandoned his family years before. “You ever think about how Ace feels?” he asks. “Not even on my best day,” Kathy declares resolutely.
While visiting doctors at the local hospital, Antonio meets and befriends a Vietnamese immigrant named Parker who’s sick with cancer. They strike up a friendship as fellow immigrants raised in the U.S. And Antonio goes out of his way to help make her final days better.
When Ace finds out about a vicious and illegal act that his partner, Danny, has committed, he arrests him and turns him into the authorities.
After being told that he’s going to be deported, an ICE official whom Antonio knows says he’s willing to let Antonio run away and avoid the law. But Antonio refuses to do so if there’s any chance of being with his family safely for the long term.
Antonio and Kathy kiss.
Antonio talks about being beaten by his abusive adoptive father as a boy. He asks his abused, adoptive mother why she didn’t run away from that abuse when Antonio asked her to leave with him.
Antonio pushes Danny back after being shoved and taunted in a supermarket for no good reason. The officer takes that as official permission to batter Antonio, which he does. Later, Danny and two other men drag Antonio into the woods and beat him mercilessly, leaving him heavily bloodied and barely able to walk.
Antonio joins a group of men to smash a store window and steal several motorbikes. Parker tells Antonio about her family escaping Vietnam and taking boats to America. Half of her family members drowned during the trip.
Parker, who’s gradually succumbing to cancer, later grows weak and dies.
We watch Antonio’s mother (in flashback) attempt to drown her son. But she breaks down emotionally and stops before committing the act. Years later a helplessly depressed Antonio attempts to drown himself, but the imagined images of his mother cause him to stop as well.
We hear nearly 50 f-words (including a dozen or so pairings with “mother,” as well as 20 s-words. There are also multiple uses each of “h—,” “d–n,” “a–” and “b–ch.” God’s name is linked five times with “d–n.”
Antonio smokes on several occasions. People drink beer and hard liquor (sometimes directly from the bottle in the latter case) at a large family picnic.
Antonio goes back to stealing motorcycles in his desperate search for money. And he then lies about it to Kathy.
Belonging is important.
Whether its with a loved one, a loving family or even a country, having foundational roots—a place where you belong—can make a life-changing difference. And Blue Bayou drives that point home with deep emotional resonance.
The dramatic story here also points to harsh loopholes in the American immigration system concerning foreign adoptees. That’s an important issue and is obviously a key reason writer/director Justin Chon created this film.
But Blue Bayou is also saturated in an abundance of melodramatic drumbeats, hateful racism and extremely profane language. In other words, it’s not always an easy film to live with. Even if you might want to.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.