Review: C.O.G (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: After a falling-out with his parents, David (Jonathan Groff) or Samuel, as he now chooses to go by, heads to Oregon to work as an apple picker. He hopes this will be his defining moment- a la John Steinbeck, but he quickly finds himself out of his element.
REVIEW: The “young guy figuring it all out” genre is one of the hallmarks of indie cinema. It’s given us lots of great films, from THE GRADUATE, to the more recent GARDEN STATE. C.O.G presents an interesting twist on the formula, with “Samuel”- obviously a doppelganger for author David Sedaris, on whose book this is based, leaving his urban lifestyle to be an apple picker. In the thirties, going on the road to live amongst the “common folk” was common for many aspiring authors, from Steinbeck to George Orwell (“Down & Out in Paris and London” is one of my favorite books).
Of course, Sedaris is no Steinbeck, nor does he try to be, so his experiences on the road are not quite as uplifting or life-defining as his literary forbearers. But, in their own way his adventures are illuminating even though, over the course of the film, it seems unlikely that Samuel has learned anything about himself he didn’t already know.
Whether or not you get any enjoyment out of C.O.G depends on your opinion of Sedaris. I like him- albeit in small doses. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed the first hour of C.O.G, which sees the prissy Samuel go to work for a grumpy old apple-grower, memorably played by the great Dean Stockwell. Groff seems to be the ideal guy to play Sedaris’ stand-in, having the right smart-alecky attitude, although he’s able to suggest hidden conflict or lack of self-esteem under his bitchy exterior.
The best part of C.O.G finds Samuel working alongside the blue-collar Curly- played by the effortlessly charismatic Corey Stoll, fresh off his scene-stealing turn as Ernest Hemmingway in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Curly’s interactions with Samuel start off poignant, and become something else entirely once the two spend a little time together, eventually hitting a disturbing note later in the film. I could have watched a whole film centered around Samuel and Curly, but alas…
It’s the second half of C.O.G where the film started to lose me. Most of the second hour centers around Samuel’s relationship with the one-legged Jon (Denis O’Hare)- a preacher who wants to make Samuel a C.O.G (Child of God). Their relationship is an odd one, and I found it stretched probability that Samuel would get so involved with Jon, or vice versa. Even still, O’Hare- who's best known for playing the King of Louisiana on TRUE BLOOD is never less than excellent- as is Groff for that matter.
So- while C.O.G more or less lost me in the second half, I liked enough of the film to make it an easy recommendation. Whether or not you like it depends mostly on your opinion of Sedaris, as Kyle Patrick Alvarez’ film doesn’t disguise the material with showy technique, or anything like that. It’s shot simply and efficiently, but the performances are great. But- it gets to be a little much the more we get into it. Then again- if you think Sedaris is a genius, you’ll probably love this.