Film Review: C.O.G.

Stale, flat and unprofitable might be how Shakespeare would have also described this uninvolving David Sedaris adaptation.

David (Jonathan Groff) is going “under the radar” from his East Coast Yalie background and troubled family on a bus headed to Oregon. There, he finds work among Mexican immigrants on an apple farm presided over by a cantankerous geezer, Hobbs (Dean Stockwell, amusing himself). He tries to connect with his co-workers but is rebuffed at every attempt, just as he is when he is transferred to a slightly more prestigious job as packer in the plant by the rough, blue-collar women who toil alongside him.

David makes one friend, forklift driver Curly (Corey Stoll), who seems simpatico enough, but that relationship fizzles when Curly puts the moves on him one night in his bedroom decorated with an impressive dildo collection. Running from the scene and his job, David takes up with a born-again Christian named Jon (Denis O’Hare), who offers him a shared room and work, helping him to make stone wall clocks in the shape of Oregon to be sold at local street fairs. Although Jon leads him to finally accept Jesus Christ into his life, poor David’s luck doesn’t seem to ever change, for beneath all the holy sanctimoniousness, Jon is an extremely angry war veteran with a leg missing from combat.

Based on the writing of über-popular David Sedaris, C.O.G. might have been rather absorbing, quirky reading, but is simply not enough for a feature film, although the Oregon setting is often spectacularly verdant. Writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez does nothing to explain what severe tensions have made David flee from his family, and this, plus a lot more expositional obfuscation, just makes him an unaffecting blank. Groff, who has done some attractive work on stage (notably in Spring Awakening) has some of the cherubic handsomeness his co-star here, the now-ravaged Stockwell, once possessed, and he cries prettily, but he is unable to flesh out a character that merely comes across as a writer’s conceit of common clay just waiting to be molded by life.

Although David might very well be gay, he seems more neuter than anything else, as we never see any real sexual tension or desire in this young man. You watch him being rejected by everyone around him and, instead of feeling sorry for him, you think, “Why is he wearing that Yale sweater in the apple fields? No wonder they hate him.” His inability to make out that the mysterious acronym, C.O.G., which Jon keeps bandying, stands for “Child of God” makes him seem particularly thick, and during his religious conversion he is photographed like Jennifer Jones was in The Song of Bernadette, tears ecstatically flowing down his face, yet you feel nothing.

I liked the bitter old biddies in the factory—dismissed by Curly as a lot of “fat dykes”—and actually would have preferred following their more authentic-seeming lives rather than David’s. The character of Curly, who as played by Stoll has tons more easy, humorous spark in him, unfortunately is made to fall into that hoary tradition of predatory homosexual one would have hoped died out in this millennium. That dildo collection seems a particularly forced example of Sedaris whimsy, and the rape scene itself comes off as both offensive and silly. O’Hare gives his role a manic intensity, but the character, as drawn, seems a fraudulent dramatic device, never more so than when he describes his wartime rage against a dying compatriot in a monologue calculated to be chilling as well as incendiary.