Written and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez from an essay by David Sedaris, “C.O.G.” played earlier this year at Outfest, Sundance and Frameline, and it won the director the New American Cinema Award at the Seattle International Film Festival.
This is the first time a work by David Sedaris, protective of his very personal writings and for good reason, has been translated to the screen and hopefully it portends future adaptations. At the film’s center is a fetching performance by Broadway actor Jonathan Groff as David, whose wayward dreams of manifest destiny lead him away from his affluent life as an east coast Ivy Leaguer to working as a farmhand in Oregon. Right from the get-go, David is a stranger in a strange land. The film’s opening scene places him on a bus, sandwiched between weary travelers shouting vulgarities and a few who are all but getting it on.
Lost in translation both culturally and linguistically, the preppy, coiffed David is hampered by the language barrier of the orchard’s Spanish-speaking migrant workers and by the west coast dispositions far-removed from his own. Along the fumbling road to his self-actualization — in terms of his sexuality and his spirituality — David encounters a motley crop of characters including an affable evangelical (Denis O’Hare) and a predatory factory worker (Corey Stoll) with more than just skeletons in his closet.
“C.O.G.” is a kind of modern day picaresque, charting the foibles and follies of a young man coming to terms with himself. If you are familiar with Sedaris books like “Naked” or “Me Talk Pretty One Day” — uncomfortable, hilarious and occasionally emotionally piquant — Groff’s character is David Sedaris, warts and all. Groff tempers David with a complacent smugness that O’Hare’s character, a preachy born again, challenges. Together the actors share a chummy rapport as two men dueling over their conflicting philosophies and world views. David believes religion is only for people who “don’t understand how the world works.” And though faith might not be the answer, David barely knows how the world works, either.
Spiked with moments of warmth and humor amid David’s frustrating narcissism, “C.O.G.” is sure to please Sedaris fans and moviegoers unfamiliar with the writer. Alvarez shoots the film in a steely blue that is easy on the eyes, and in a vast widescreen that perfectly conveys David’s existential emptiness. By the end of this witty little movie, there is a small dose of salvation for him, but it is certainly hard-earned.
“C.O.G.” hits theaters and VOD this Friday.