This film premiered on Netflix, who paid for it, rather than cinema screens. Cannes has never had a competition film named after a giant, farting pig before. Even when properly up and running, the film slips in and out of its groove. A diverting, intermittently clever, sometimes awkward blend of find-the-missing-pet adventure and anti-meat satire, it comes from the pen of Jon Ronson (a vegetarian with a dark sense of humour) and Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It’s a goofy concept, oscillating on the edge of facile, but Bong has a good track record for cooking up such weird concepts and spinning them off in productive, tonally brave directions.
The relationship between Okja, a prize specimen being raised in the Korean countryside, and Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyeon) the young farm girl who has raised him from piglet hood, feels more cut out for a family-friendly story. The Mirando Corporation, represented by a squeaking TV animal pundit called Mr. Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal), arrive to claim their property, and Mija can only watch as the massive mound of grey blubber she thinks of as a best friend. Okja shares about equal screen time with the stars like Gyllenhaal, who makes a promising fist of his first scene and then rapidly lets himself go way overboard. Much more inspired is Swinton, in the double role of sisters with no love lost and an interestingly opposed take on corporate values.
Okja is plenty of fun, and smart around the edges, but the girl-and-her-pig stuff can drag, and it feels like it’s pressing for resonance more than properly achieving it. We wind up in a slaughterhouse, of course. It’s more like a kids’ meal for adults than an adult one for kids.