Based on the autobiographical essay by humourist David Sedaris, C.O.G. centres around an enigmatic and sensitive young grad student called David (Jonathan Groff) who one day decides that instead of continuing with his studies or getting a regular job to drop everything and go live and work like “real people” picking apples. Along the way he meets a variety of individuals who shape his newfound life including friendly forklift driver named Curly (Corey Stoll) and Iraq War veteran and born again Christian named Jon (Denis O’Hare) who sets up him up working as his stone-carving apprentice.
The film starts off strangely with a series of encounters that David (now calling himself Samuel) has on the bus to his destination before settling into a meandering and rather aimless path that seems to be frustratingly going nowhere. On a job collecting gasoline for his boss (Dean Stockwell), he is approached by Dennis O’Hare’s character who is handing out flyers. Immediately the film has some life breathed into it and his presence lingers as the movie gets back to doing nothing.
Luckily that’s not the last we see of him and once he becomes a permanent fixture the movie then has a purpose, as he brings not only a more meaningful working life for David as a stone carver but introduces the idea of how religion – specifically the mysterious C.O.G. of the title – could make him a better man. The film is keenly observant about the power of religion and how it can be used as a source of personal gain and the exertion of influence as much as helping someone spiritually.
Groff is excellent in the lead role, taking an entitled and potentially unlikeable character and making him somehow relatable – his character goes on a quietly moving journey and the effectiveness of that is down to Groff. O’Hare is also fantastic, bringing an uneasiness to a character that might have seemed like a caricature in the wrong hands. There’s also nice work from the likes of Dean Stockwell as David’s boss and Corey Stoll as his welcoming new friend Curly, although he is rather wasted on a thin subplot about David’s questioned sexuality that the movie never really has the means to fully explore.
Writer/director Kyle Patrick Alavarez (Easier with Practice) delivers an intimate, contemplative film about early adulthood and figuring out what you want to do with your life, all the while highlighting the stark differences between rural and urban American life and how difficult it is for someone used to one way of life to make the direct jump to another. It takes a little while to find its purpose but once it does its filled with effective moments that resonate with the added bonus of some great performances.