"C.O.G." just might suffer from exaggerated expectations. It’s the first time any film has ever been made from David Sedaris’s work. However, it does seem to lack that magic Sedaris flavor that lets him go to such deep and outrageous places. The film often feels like certain moments aren’t earned because of it lacks that Sedaris wit.
David (Jonathan Groff), a pretentious Yale grad, decides to go to a remote Oregon town and reinvent himself as Samuel, an apple picker. He does manage to both alienate his female co-workers and Mexican neighbors but impress his bosses Hobbs (Dean Stockwell) and Curly (Corey Stoll). He also meets an eccentric "C.O.G.," Jon (Denis O’Hare), and starts selling crafts and exploring Christianity. Through the course of the film he discovers what it means to really be a "good boy."
Despite the amazing casting, the film feels like there’s something missing. It feels like all the potential for comedy has been sapped out, and certain potential jokes are played dramatically. The juxtaposition of Groff’s pompous, Yale sweater-wearing dilettante trying to fit in among people working tirelessly at apple-picking offers the occasional chuckle, but it lacks that spark to make it deeply funny. Humor can come from difficult emotions and often allows people to venture to darker places. This is a skill that David Sedaris has, but sadly it was not distilled into the film.
The cast also seems to lack some of the charm they’ve had in other projects. O’Hare has managed more humor and dark complexity in his role on "True Blood" as an over-the-top murderous vampire. Groff was able to be likeable yet full of himself on "Glee." Casey Wilson is a comic genius, but he seems to just fade into the background of the film.
The film isn’t bad per se. But, Sedaris is able to earn so much more leeway because of his great wit, irony and understanding of emotion. The film ends up feeling overly dark, dramatic and sometimes self-indulgent. It has plenty of entertaining moments and does explore the growth of a bratty child. However, certain elements feel forced rather than justified. Granted, these moments did happen to Sedaris, but they just don’t feel real.
The question arises, if the film had nothing to do with David Sedaris, would it be more enjoyable? Does knowing it has to do with David Sedaris give heightened expectations? You can’t help but reflect back on your favorite Sedaris story, his unique sense of humor and neurotic tone.
"C.O.G." is an interesting film. It includes some great actors and is a dramatization of a great short story. It has some funny moments, dark moments and tender moments. However, if you are a David Sedaris fan, it may not blow your mind.