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Fish Lips 

I'm the One That I Want may be a feast for Margaret Cho fans, but it won't win her converts.

Not being a reader of The National Enquirer, The Star, People, or Us, I didn't know about comedienne-actress Margaret Cho's struggles with depression and drug and alcohol addiction, or about her near-death from kidney failure brought on by extreme dieting. In fact, I didn't know anything about her at all except that she had been the star of a short-lived television sitcom I had never watched, but which had gotten a lot of attention because it was the first TV series to feature an Asian American in the lead role.

Having now seen I'm the One That I Want, the film version of Cho's one-woman show that originated Off Broadway, I now know all of these things and much more -- some of which I wish I didn't know. The best and funniest parts of her routine concern her baptism of fire at ABC, home of her ill-fated weekly series All-American Girl. The portrait she paints of the corporate television mentality is both hilarious and frightening. Executives first worried that Cho was too Asian, then, later, that she wasn't Asian enough. Judged too fat for prime-time television, she was ordered to lose weight. She became addicted to diet pills and shed pounds so rapidly that her kidneys malfunctioned and she was hospitalized. As with so many performers, her identity depended upon other people's acceptance of her. Which meant that, when her show was canceled, she fell apart. Turning to drugs and alcohol, she became just another Hollywood casualty.

Fortunately, the story doesn't end there, and I'm the One That I Want stands as a sort of self-affirmation. Cho's brand of humor is unapologetically rude, crude, and raunchy. She also drags her mother through the ringer, which might not be so bad were it not for the unappetizing facial expressions that accompany these particular jokes.

Truth be told, Cho has a most unbecoming way of contorting her face; at these moments, she stands very erect and pulls her head into her neck, producing several double chins, squints her eyes -- or, conversely, opens them abnormally wide -- and sucks in her cheeks, which gives her fish lips. She stands there and looks around the room, making sure everyone in the auditorium gets a good look. It must be some sort of signature mannerism, because the crowd just eats it up.

The same can be said for the film as a whole: Devotees presumably will think they have died and gone to heaven, while Cho virgins may laugh aloud only a half-dozen times. Where is Tom Lehrer when you need him?

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