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C.O.G. is my favorite David Sedaris essay, even before I moved to Oregon and recognized some of its landmarks. The movie even begins with one of my favorite speeches from the essay, although the speech is much better on the page.
The story concerns a young man who fantasizes about joining the working class (as in Grapes of Wrath) and travels to Oregon to pick apples, work in an apple sorting factory, and make jade sculptures with a temperamental man who is trying to convert him to Christianity. In the essay, Sedaris, as himself, is state school educated, a stoner, accustomed to menial jobs, and from a working class family. In the movie, David – or Samuel, as he's calling himself – is a smarmy preppy educated at Yale who is first depicted reading Darwin's Origin of Species. When Sedaris makes fun of crazy people on a Greyhound, or working class people at a factory, it is clear that he is making fun of his own expectations, as well as people not far below him in social class. This is quite a contrast to an upper class character looking down on dumb poor people. This is one of the movie's first flaws. And it colors almost everything. What is his true motivation, if he is so jaded and cynical? What is the movie trying to tell us about working people and Christians when it presents us with this character as its hero?
A second flaw is one chief among Hollywood movies, even those intended for the art-house crowd. Though David Sedaris himself, as well as the lead actor, are openly gay, this movie wouldn't want to come out and just say such a thing, why people might flee into the streets. So it teases us with making us believe he might have a female love interest; it does not tell us what the source of the conflict is with his family (it would appear to be his coming out); it doesn't tell us why he is so freaked out by a co-worker's gay advances (is it because he's grossed out by the man or the concept?), or how any of this might impact his potential conversion to Christianity. I'm sure the director has a lofty, annoying explanation for this oversight, but I can count two "so, was he gay?" posts already on the list of five that show up on the main page.
The score, mainly percussion, will be off-putting to many, especially in the first scenes on the bus. And the ending will also confuse. After personal conflicts with many of the characters, how will his opinions and his Christian conversion change? We know IRL that David Sedaris went on to a happy life as a bestselling author. A less vague ending could have shown what the character learned from these experiences, especially since this movie tried so hard to be more sincere than its comedic base.
This movie has some things going for it, but it is philosophically a disappointment.
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