★★ / ★★★★
Some audiences will claim that “C.O.G.,” based on the essay by David Sedaris, is surprisingly bleak for a comedy. But I say it is a matter of perspective. Taking into consideration the character’s evolution from a post-grad who has a tendency to romanticize rural life to someone who is a little wiser about how people might actually be like out in the world (as opposed to fictional characters he encounters by reading the classics), I think the film ends on a positive note despite dramatic hues in plot development. This is because the character has come out of the other side more enlightened than before. In the beginning, he thought he knew how the world worked. But by the end, he’s had practical experience with the people and the work he could only romanticize about.
Jonathan Groff plays David with such magnetic charm that it is difficult to look away from him despite the various colorful characters on screen. His approach is interesting in that even though at times he is not the focus of the scene, he remains in character while in the background. David is the kind of person who tends to overthink and Groff has found a way to communicate that his character is thinking even when he is apparently doing nothing. Not many performers can pull this off but Groff manages to do so with elegance and grace. Another layer of challenge is that for a while we are not certain whether David is someone whom are supposed to like based on how he exercises his privilege.
This comedic picture is not about big laughs. The laughs come in a form of sharp criticism. At times these criticisms might hit the viewer directly and trigger a bit of soul-searching. In other words, the comedy is specific and one that takes chances. So many comedies are broad, harmless, often to be forgotten the moment the jokes are seen or heard. In this film, I found myself thinking about certain character interactions that have occurred thirty or forty-five minutes prior based on later scenes designed to highlight or establish a set of patterns directly tethered to human flaws or shortcomings.
For instance, just about every person that David encounters is lost in some way—even though it appears these people have found their passion, their calling, their God. It makes a statement that perhaps no one really has it all figured out even though it may appear otherwise on the surface. The story, I think, is about putting a magnifying glass on insecurities, how people react when these insecurities are triggered or challenged. David is, appropriately, the center of the film because, essentially, he ends up being the punching bag.
Indeed, tonally, the film is all over the place and the plot meanders. It could have been a more concise picture by trimming at least fifteen minutes. It might have improved its flow. While these technical shortcomings are present, I can almost overlook them because I enjoyed how the movie made me think and feel. I often wondered and lamented why or how people can be so cruel to one another over petty or trivial things.
Written and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, “C.O.G.” is certainly an acquired taste, but I do recommend it marginally because of what it chooses to say about the human condition. It is a kind of comedy that makes fun of every character while at the same time pointing out that there is a disgusting side to each one of them. It is the antithesis of mainstream comedy.