Margaret Cho is a bright writer and an astute performer–at times she comes across winningly as a Korean Roseanne–but the filmization of her one-woman show, made during performances in her hometown of San Francisco last year, is at best moderately amusing and only sporadically insightful. And as cinema it’s about as bare-bones as it’s possible to get.
Like Julia Sweeney, whose “God Said ‘Ha!'” last year capitalized on material drawn from her own (often unhappy) experiences, Cho concentrates on getting laughs from her family background and work history, emphasizing directives and telephone calls issued by her mother on the one hand and the ramifications of her failed 1994 TV sitcom “All American Girl” on the other. (One can see the recent plot line about trying to fashion an “Asian-American” comedy series on Showtime’s “Beggars and Choosers” as a reflection on her travails.) In her bits on the former, Cho gets big laughs from her mom’s comments without getting nasty or mean-spirited, and in the latter her material is generally sharp and on-target. But elsewhere she seems to go off target. The entire opening segment, based on Cho’s prominence as a self-styled “fag hag,” goes over exceptionally well with the live audience, as do other segments on related themes, but on screen these portions of the script seem overly calculated to the expectations of the local venue and too insistent to be really funny. And, as so often happens in stand-up, the material proves uneven elsewhere, too.
From the cinematic standpoint, moreover, the film is awfully chintzy. Cho performs on an almost empty stage, with only some bottled water as a prop, and director Lionel Coleman uses what appears to be a single camera focused consistently on her to capture the performance without frills. One hears the audience reaction, but never sees the attendees themselves, and so the picture seems the equivalent of a TV show with a laughtrack. (It’s particularly unfortunate that we’re never shown the reactions of Cho’s parents who, we’re told, are in the hall; some of them might have been priceless.)
For fans of Margaret Cho, particularly those who haven’t been able to catch her act live, “I’m The One That I Want” is sure to be a nice present. From the rest of us it will get only a lukewarm response. I guess you just had to be there for the full effect.