Movie Review - C.O.G.

Jonathan Groff (left)
and Denis O'Hare in "C.O.G."
Based on the book Naked by David Sedaris, which consisted of autobiographical, humorist essays, this comedic film, written and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, continues the theme in Alvarez's previous film Easier With Practice, that of a young, American man of questionable sexuality on the road, almost in Beatnik fashion, trying to find some kind of spiritual or even emotional, human connection. Alvarez's previous character was named Davey. His character here is named David. No, they're not the same. The former is straight. The latter is gay. The former is more timid. The latter is not, but both become socially isolated.

Jonathan Groff plays David Sedaris or a version of him, as he travels from Connecticut to Oregon after graduating from college. He calls his mom and tells her that he's going off the radar. There's some tension between David and his mother, which is never truly verbalized but it becomes obvious what the matter is. He changes his name to Samuel and applies to work as an apple picker at Hobbs Orchard. All of a sudden, David-turned-Samuel who is this extremely preppie, white boy reading Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau, wearing his Yale University sweater and sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the all-Hispanic workforce at Hobbs Orchard, collects barrels and barrels of fruit.

Things don't work out in the apple industry or perhaps they work out too well and Samuel leaves. He ends up working for Jon, played by Denis O'Hare. Jon is a very religious man who became so after losing his leg serving in the Iraq war and nearly losing his soul to alcoholism. He now is a sculptor who knows metalworking and makes objects out of jade. He hopes to sell a bunch of his sculptures at the upcoming county fair and takes Samuel as his assistant.

Aside from being a kind of exposé on the American northwest and the immigrant population that supports it and struggles to do so, aside from the cynicism and desperation of the poor, working class who are just pieces in a factory line there and who have lost ambition or aspiration for anything different or greater, and aside from the conventions and contradictions of certain church followers, this movie is the one movie that made me laugh out loud this year. It might not be as smart a comedy as Blue Jasmine. It might not have as many uproarious set-up and punchlines as The Heat, but, using awkward situations and amazing as well as shocking, visual gags, Alvarez is able to translate Sedaris' humor brilliantly.

For example, the opening six minutes is probably the craziest and funniest thing I've seen all year, and all Groff does is sit still. Yet, the monologues and dialogue that Alvarez crafts and his camera framing, conveying the cramped nature, make for the most uncomfortable bus ride ever, as well as the longest.

Alvarez plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect very well. Samuel is the stranger, and what Alvarez does is also make Samuel the fish out of water who is rescued time and time again, but every time the rescuer doesn't turn out to be any better. Alvarez also plays up the idea of "out of the frying pan and into the fire." The obvious example is with Denis O'Hare's character whose enthusiasm about his religion mixed with his frustrations in life leads to a trigger temper.

Corey Stoll (right) in "C.O.G."
The cast is rounded out with some great co-stars, including Dean Stockwell, Dale Dickey, Troian Bellisario and Casey Wilson. All of whom perhaps have too short a time and too little to do but make great impressions in their brief roles. The standout is Corey Stoll who plays Curly, a forklift operator who Samuel befriends when he goes from Hobbs Orchard to an apple packing plant.

Stoll first caught a lot of people's attention in his role as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Even though he had been steadily working in television for a decade prior, he first caught my eye when he landed his first, regular, leading role in the TV series Law & Order: Los Angeles. He really blew me away in the American version of House of Cards in which Stoll was nothing short of fantastic. I was very eager to see him here, and the man does not disappoint. He goes from being so charming, funny and sexy to so extremely creepy, scary and aggressive. He'll be overlooked during the movie award season just like he was for House of Cards during the TV award season, but to me this is a great supporting performance.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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