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SIFF ADVANCE: C.O.G. - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

If you're already a huge fan of David Sedaris, it can be hard to divorce yourself from the high expectations that come with the first-ever film adaptation of any of Sedaris's work. Is this movie really as great as it seems? Or have I just convinced myself it is because I love David Sedaris so much? That I even have to ask myself that is arguably telling, but I'm going to go ahead and say this is a pretty great movie anyway.

Okay, so it starts out slightly dubious. David (the wonderfully understated Jonathan Groff) is in a bus-montage. We don't know exactly how long the bus ride is, but we obviously are meant to know it's very long -- and filled with supremely annoying people. A foul-mouthed pregnant lady; an ex-con Jesus freak; a couple doing a little more than just making out under their blanket; the list goes on. It's a little bit over the top, although David's subdued irritation is well played. Still, it's not the best way to introduce us to the world this young college student lives in, as it bears little relation to his environments throughout the rest of the movie.

David is a pompous know-it-all from a prestigious school (Yale; he wears his school sweater through much of the film), who seems to think he's worldly just because he once studied in Japan. He buses out to an apple orchard to work picking apples, having decided with his girlfriend that they want to see how "the other half lives." Clearly he thinks he's better than these people, most of whom are Mexican immigrants. He's not on speaking terms with his mother; we never know why but we can assume it's over something petty. We know immediately that his girlfriend won't be coming through for him: she's told him she'll meet him the following week. David, who tells everyone at the orchard his name is Samuel, tells a coworker about this: "She made me take the bus. Can you believe that?" With a comment like that, it's actually a relief that the Mexican guy can speak very little English.

David is offered a new job, sorting apples overnight at the factory. He makes obliviously entitled comments and then wonders why the other factory workers sarcastically nickname him "Einstein." A seemingly sweet guy named Curly (Corey Stoll) takes a liking to him, and gets him another promotion. Curly is attracted to David, and it's not until one hilariously shocking scene that we find out exactly to what degree. In fact, David's own sexuality is touched on with such subtlety it's almost easy to miss. You never quite know exactly how much David should trust Curly.

Then again, the same could be said of many of the people David meets. Over these few months, David's job keeps changing, and it's the result of him sort of just letting life happen to him. Rarely is it exactly what he had in mind. Eventually he lands an apprenticeship job with the guy who early on tried to hand him a flyer that says "Are you a C.O.G.?" on it. David is a self-proclaimed atheist but he turns to Jon (Denis O'Hare) when he discovers he's out of options -- and money. It takes David ages to figure out what "C.O.G." means, asking several times -- and come on, David, it's not that hard to figure out. Maybe it is if you didn't grow up Christian.

Religion figures prominently in this story, and it is treated with impressive neutrality. Jon's "relationship with God" is clearly dubious from the beginning, but when David meets him, Jon is living in the basement of another Christian family (the mom played, very sweetly, by Happy Endings's Casey Wilson). It was clearly intentional on the part of writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez to include this good, Christian family who happen not to be hypocrites. It makes the film feel less like a judgment of Christianity than a judgment of people who use Christianity for their own selfish means, and it was a wise choice. Eventually, that family has to tell Jon it's time for him to move out, and it's clear to everyone but Jon that they're right.

But for the oddly dissonant -- yet effective -- score, C.O.G. is a rather quiet, subdued movie; yet it never drags. Seeing things through David's self-important and naïve eyes is always entertaining, and Groff is cast perfectly to convey that innocence and lack of self-awareness. The ending is strangely abrupt, and comes after a fairly heart-wrenching scene. David, it seems, is meant to be illuminated by his experiences in the long run, but the ending chosen here makes it a bit of a challenge to see that. I would have liked an ending with more clarity. But you can't have everything.

Most of C.O.G. is amusing and believable, which is a rare combination in film. It's consistent even when a couple of bizarre things happen to David. But bizarre things happen to us all; it's the severity that determines how realistic it is. By and large, Alvarez keeps these things in perfect balance. This is a unique story that, until the very end, works exceptionally well.

Jonathan Groff goes on a journey toward dubious enlightenment in C.O.G.

Overall: A-
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