13 November 2013

Filmbook: "C.O.G."

Debuting at Sundance this year, "C.O.G." bears the distinction of being the first full-length screen adaptation of a David Sedaris work (based on an essay of the same name from NAKED). That gives this small-scale, immediate drama a lot to live up to. Perhaps they should have started with "The Santaland Diaries."

"C.O.G." finds Sedaris as a young, idealistic college graduate, here called "Samuel," leaving his cushy life to pick apples on a farm in Oregon. His dream of Thoreau-ishly reading among the trees is rudely interrupted almost immediately, as he fails to get along with the migrant workers who constitute the farm's labor force, suffers from the hard work and, shockingly, is punished for reading when he should be picking. While he waits for the expected moment of mental clarity, Samuel stubbornly resists rescue and tries to face his problems on his own. 

As a film project, this is a charming and disturbing little movie, the kind that Sundance grows like a crop. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (this is his second movie) lets Samuel's story lag somewhat in the middle of the movie but has a fine eye for framing and catching moments. Lead Jonathan Groff, of "Glee" and Broadway fame (Marjorie!), is terrific and very subtle here. Corey Stoll and Denis O'Hare are terrifying in smaller roles as people Samuel encounters along the way.

What I found most disconcerting about this movie -- in a good, interesting way -- was the reminder that the Sedaris character in this movie is not the middle-aged, finicky, set-in-his-ways curmudgeon character under whose cover he travels now, but an open-minded, over-bold, risk-taking ingenue. (I mean, just look at that poster. He really wears that sweater to the orchard, to pick apples in.) Sedaris, the character, seems never to waver in what he knows he wants; Samuel, on the other hand, is one coast-to-coast waver, a man still trying to figure out who he is. It's a useful reminder of how Sedaris, as an essayist, has been able to keep his audience over several life changes (and books) -- and how much authorial confidence plays into all of that.

The verdict: Read NAKED, because everyone should, then see "C.O.G." -- in theatres if you're a Sedaris completist, on DVD if you are not.


Marjorie said...

Aw, remember Spring Awakening? When you couldn't stay at my apartment because I didn't even have a couch? Good times.

Ellen said...

Of course I remember! Our salad days... Clearly between Groff and Lea Michele we are great prognosticators of future Broadway success.