Some theatrical performances don't transfer well to film, and this isn't taking fictional adaptation into account. There's an immediacy to watching a live show that adds energy to your response that, when separated by a screen and camera controlling what your eyes see, pales the material presented, no matter what it is. First case in point being The Vagina Monologues (as taped for HBO).
Such is the case with Notorious C.H.O., Margaret Cho's follow-up to the successful I'm the One That I Want. A comedienne with chutzpah and natural sense of comic timing, Cho can provoke laughter through the most overused humor, while the camera operators switch between continuously unmotivated angles in the hopes that your eyes won't get too bored. Maybe if you have access to several cameras you should use them regardless, but if a film keeps cutting between lenses without purpose, attention span will drop to zero.
Cho is funny and intelligent, an articulate joy to listen to. It's understandable that she'd have a varied audience, as shown through brief street interviews before the actual performance of the taped Notorious begins. These pre-show chats include discussion with her parents, which are aptly adorable, along with fans mimicking their favorite gags, and Cho discussing her fame. The quick-paced, but unhurried, conglomeration is the perfect teaser to wet your appetite for the next 90 minutes of standup set.
Her subjects range from sexual encounters at all ends of the preference spectrum, to the latest silly Hollywood trends, to creating jokes from family life, a mixture anyone is bound to find something they appreciate in. She has a tendency to use repetitive facial expressions to punctuate the ending of each joke, but it doesn't make her any less of an entertaining storyteller. Like any comedy person that has had to struggle, she falls prey to the same soapbox routine of "how to make the world a better place," but her experiences allow for you to brush off such unnecessary redundancy with practiced patience. How many times do we need to hear that gay men and women should be allowed to marry? And does it do any good to preach to people who already agree with you?
Perhaps it's because director Lorene Machado, who also did Cho's first film, isn't as practiced behind the lens as others who've directed individual-based pieces (Steven Soderbergh's able maneuvering of Gray's Anatomy for Spalding Gray comes to mind) that Notorious is not visually appealing enough to keep you focused. You could simply be listening to a walkman and get the same experience because, luckily, Cho's stories are worthy enough. But some of the emotional interaction is lost in sloppy flipping around Ms. Cho's pleasantly imperfect body. This might have been helped with extra shots of the audience, especially as she frequently points to people, but Machado seems to want the home video customer to be the audience and the intended effect doesn't catch.
As comedic spotlights go, Notorious C.H.O. hits all the verbal marks it should. It's a portrait that easily conveys a familiarity with Cho, acknowledging her talent as her writing maintains an Everywoman status that will keep her fan base growing.
Larger than life.