The segmented, episodic format of the narrative makes every moment feel transient, fleeting, so that nothing ever sticks.
Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier With Practice) has been gifted the very first crack at translating the work of acclaimed writer David Sedaris to the big screen with C.O.G., a soul-seeker dramedy adapted from one of Sedaris’ short stories. Faithful followers of Sedaris who’ve been thirsty for a cinematic adaptation of one of his darkly comic short stories won’t find in C.O.G. quite what they’ve been waiting for as it fails to capture the emotional potency of its source material. Thanks to thin, tinny writing, these characters come off as duller, more pedestrian versions of Sedaris’ larger-than-life creations, despite powerful, multi-layered performances supplied by the game cast.
Jonathan Groff plays David, a pompous, preppy Yale student (he lets you know with a big fat “Y” on his sweater) who travels West on a Greyhound with the mission of “getting his hands dirty”, battling his long-repressed homosexuality, and discovering true happiness. Foolishly, he believes that by hunkering down with the working-class world for a while, he’ll be able to clear his mind of clutter and sort out nagging sexual insecurities.
He begins his odyssey picking apples on an apple farm (beautifully shot), run by the hilariously prejudiced Dean Stockwell. David finds himself unable to jibe with his fellow apple pickers (almost all hispanic), partly due to the ignorance he’s brought with him from the East coast. Still, he’s a good kid, and he makes an earnest effort to make friends with strangers. He’s just a little misguided.
Groff’s cockiness and pretension feel natural and often drive the humor, though he never comes across as completely obnoxious or unlikable. There’s a boyish innocence to him that he retains throughout the film, no matter how brash or arrogant he gets. It’s a complex role–there’s a growing thunderstorm of sexual and religious bewilderment and frustration bottled up in David, and Groff conveys the inner conflict well.
After being promoted from the orchards to the sorting plant he meets a friendly, flannel-wearing, blue collar man’s man named Curly (played with panache by Corey Stoll) who…well…let’s just say he comes on a little strong. Also at the plant, David meets a shit-talking apple-sorter, Debbie (Dale Dickey), and later a legless Gulf War vet named Jon (the great character actor Denis O’Hare) who reveals the meaning of the titular abbreviation and attempts to convert David to Christianity, or some variant of it.
Jon is a tornado of rage, jealousy, small-mindedness, and unwavering faith, though he’s got enough kindness in him to take David under his wing. It’s an unpredictable, ever-evolving role, and watching O’Hare embody it with such conviction is a joy. The scenes between Groff and O’Hare are the film’s best—their companionship is touching, yet it always feels deliciously volatile. The rest of the damaged characters aren’t given much to do, though the actors make the very best of what they’re given. The segmented, episodic format of the narrative makes every moment feel transient, fleeting, so that nothing ever sticks. Characters come, they go, we move on.
Alvarez makes Oregon look divine, with its leafy landscapes and tranquil fields highlighted whenever appropriate. It’s a gorgeous backdrop, and the scenery becomes a character in itself. There are several electric moments scattered throughout C.O.G. (mostly involving O’Hare), but the transient nature of the storytelling will leave you cold. Each potential friend David meets turns out to be something shockingly different than what he’d expected, which is meant to feed the main theme: everyone’s got fatal flaws, but they deserve to be loved nonetheless. We should love these characters, but Alvarez hurries by them and doesn’t give us much of a chance to get acquainted.