×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

C.O.G.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez steers auds to some gloriously uncomfortable places in this first adaptation of David Sedaris' work.

With:
With: Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario, Dale Dickey.

A self-absorbed Ivy Leaguer leaves Yale and heads West to find himself, instead finding God and a whole bunch of nutty salt-of-the-earth types in “C.O.G.” The source material may be David Sedaris (this marks the first time the essayist has allowed one of his pieces to be adapted), but the tone couldn’t be more Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who once again steers auds to some gloriously uncomfortable places, progressing far beyond debut “Easier With Practice.” The Sedaris angle should be a magnet for NPR listeners and queer/liberal/college auds, spelling sleeper success for a distrib willing to stir things up a little.

Channeling a rather more caustic, hard-R version of Sedaris from the get-go, Alvarez begins, as the essay does, on the bus to Oregon, as preppy David (Jonathan Groff) endures the humiliations of being among heathens. Hoping to connect with his inner Steinbeck — and determined to suppress his inner homosexual — David takes a job harvesting apples, reinventing himself as “Samuel” among a mostly Mexican workforce not at all amused by the dilettante in their midst.

Samuel’s brush with the common man offers ample opportunity for physical comedy, and Groff juggles everything from pratfalls to deadpan disbelief, paving the way for the far more serious — and infinitely trickier — emotional gymnastics ahead. Opting for dialogue over narration, Alvarez needs a star whom auds can easily read, and Groff has the gift, earning instant identification even early on, when the character is at his most arrogant, and taking it progressively deeper as his personal tests intensify.

Sent into town on a demeaning errand by the foreman (a hilariously surly Dean Stockwell), Samuel meets a haggard-looking Evangelical, Jon (Denis O’Hare), who demands to know whether he considers himself a “C.O.G.” (or “child of God”). Lately, there’s barely room for “Samuel,” much less Jesus Christ, in David’s life, and he politely declines salvation for the time being. Instead, he accepts a job at an apple-processing plant, which comes with the bonus of a flirty forklift operator named Curly (Corey Stoll, treading the line between blue-collar stud and back-alley rapist).

At this point, Alvarez feels the need to slightly embellish Sedaris’ essay: Pic gives the character more backstory and suggests that the trip is a homecoming of sorts for the still-closeted David, inventing several scenes in which he calls his mom (who clearly hasn’t taken well to the news) to let her know he’s in the area. As for the location itself, the production benefits enormously by shooting in Portland and Fort Hood, Ore., adding texture to a project so dependent on authenticity.

When things go sour with Curly, Samuel feels he has no choice but to call Jon, who’s glad to have a potential convert. Though Samuel is no fan of the Bible (his gripe? “It’s poorly written,” he quips), he does his best while staying under Jon’s roof to take all the prayer and proselytizing seriously — as does the film, which by this point has evolved from satire (characterized by disarming happy-slappy music) to more ambiguous, soul-searching terrain.

Meeting with an ex-girlfriend (Troian Bellisario) early in the film, the David/Samuel character corrects her use of the world “sadomasochism,” suggesting that his willingness to take buses, pick apples and so forth qualifies as plain old masochism. That may be true of Sedaris, but there’s a bit of the sadist in Alvarez, who likes to make his audiences squirm, and the way he handles the film’s conflicting temptations — Christianity and homosexuality — should do the trick.

Though political correctness isn’t on the agenda, one thing is clear: In a film where the protagonist is constantly being forced to re-evaluate the belittling stereotypes he holds of others (be they immigrants, churchgoers, factory workers, etc.), there’s no room to propagate the reductive characterizations others have of gays. It’s what makes the film’s final scene, of compromised self-acceptance, feel so heartbreaking.

Popular on Variety

C.O.G.

Production: A Forty Second Prods., Rhino Films production. (International sales: Preferred Content/UTA, Los Angeles.) Produced by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Cookie Carosella, Stephen Nemeth. Co-producers, Lauren Bratman, Betsy Stahl. Directed, written by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, based on an essay by David Sedaris.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Jas Shelton; editor, Fernando Collins; music, Steve Reich, Joe Berry; production designer, Gary Barbosa; art director, Beth Lipson; set decorator, Katherine Isom; costume designer, Julie Carnahan; sound, Brian Mazzola; visual effects, PJF Prods.; line producer, Lauren Bratmen; assistant director, Matt O'Connor; casting, Nicole Arbusto. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 20, 2013. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario, Dale Dickey.

More Film

  • Jon Voight'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' film

    President Trump to Award Jon Voight the National Medal of Arts

    President Trump will present actor Jon Voight, musician Allison Krauss, and mystery writer James Patterson with the national medal of arts. Voight is one of few in Hollywood who has been vocal about his support of President Trump in the past, calling him “the greatest president of this century.” The White House announced four recipients [...]

  • Zack Snyder arrives at the 2018

    'Justice League': Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder Support Release of 'Snyder Cut'

    Zack Snyder, Gal Gadot, and Ben Affleck have taken to social media to request that Warner Bros. release the Snyder cut of “Justice League.” Snyder, who helmed “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” and was “Justice League’s” original director, had to leave production on the film partway through after his daughter died, with Joss [...]

  • Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On?

    Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On? (Column)

    Do we choose sides when we watch “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and wrenching drama of divorce? The question, on the face of it, sounds facile in a dozen ways the movie isn’t. Rarely are there winners in divorce, and there are two sides to every breakup. “Marriage Story” is a movie that reflects that [...]

  • The Letter

    IDFA: Kenyan Documentary ‘The Letter’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given access to the trailer for Kenyan documentary “The Letter,” by producer-director duo Christopher King and Maia Lekow, which world premieres Nov. 23 at IDFA. The film follows a young man who travels to his grandmother’s rural home when he learns she’s been accused of witchcraft. He soon discovers that the threatening letter she [...]

  • Warner Bros. Box Office

    With 'Good Liar' and 'Doctor Sleep,' Warner Bros.' Box Office Misfortunes Mount

    When Warner Bros. was crafting its 2019 slate, the studio took pains to offer more than just superhero movies. To be sure, there were lots of masked vigilantes too, but more than any of its big studio brethren, Warner Bros. was willing to take a risk on the kinds of thrillers, adult dramas, coming-of-age stories, [...]

  • Constance Wu

    Will Constance Wu Ever Watch 'Hustlers'?

    Despite her leading role, Constance Wu has never seen “Hustlers” and, spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely that she will. Wu explained why she doesn’t want to watch the film to Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “This is crazy,” Kaling said in the beginning of the interview. “I [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Outmatches 'Charlie's Angels' at International Box Office

    Disney and 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” sped ahead of fellow new release, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” at the international box office. Director James Mangold’s racing drama collected $21.4 million from 41 foreign markets, representing 67% of its overseas rollout. “Ford v Ferrari” also kicked off with $31 million in North America, bringing its global [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content