Sundance '13: Sleek Oregonian Truth in Kyle Patrick Alvarez's 'C.O.G.'
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2013
One of my first introductions to David Sedaris' writing comes in the form of something that isn't exactly his writing, but rather a film based on his writing (specifically, his essay found in Naked). It's a film called C.O.G., adapted by up-and-coming filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez, returning to Sundance with his second feature film. Starring one of my favorite actors mostly known for Broadway roles finally branching into movies, Jonathan Groff, the film is a sleek but intricately fashioned slice of Oregonian truth following a well-intentioned young man from Yale who goes to work at an apple farm for experience on the other side.
Having no familiarity with the source material, I had no idea what kind of story I was going to see. C.O.G. follows a Yale graduate named Samuel, played by Jonathan Groff, who decides to leave everything (money, phones) behind and move to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Working in the small town, he meets a number of interesting individuals, including a gay co-worker who starts to get too into him, and a recovering alcoholic turned religious nut, which is one of Denis O'Hare's best performances I've seen in a long time. C.O.G. actually stands for "Child of God", and while it starts to veer in a religious direction partway through, it returns to its course and ends on a perfect note, and never tries to convert anyone into a "Child of God".
Within the first few minutes of C.O.G., it's obvious Kyle Patrick Alvarez has a refined style and filmmaking sensibilities well beyond someone just finishing his second feature film. His attention to story detail and ability to balance focus on all the elements of a great story and a great film (from characters to environment to cinematography to score), make the experience much more endearing. This only happens with films that are extraordinarily good, but it's the kind of movie at Sundance that has been sticking with me ever since seeing it and growing on me the more I think back to it. Even not being familiar with the source material, I believe this is a testament to Alvarez's ability to understand the themes in the story and what it's all about.
The score in C.O.G. alone is worth talking about, simply because it's brilliant, and recalls the work of Dario Marianelli on Atonement. Similar to the way the typewriter sound in that film gets integrated into the music and on-screen interactions, this film uses subtle clapping sounds to create a bit of tension or levity at the right moments, and it works perfectly. It was one of my favorite parts about the entire film, because it was used in such a way that it would enhance each scene and the greater story overall, but never feel overbearing or forced. Subtle, but stellar element of the film, one of many that Alvarez has exquisitely crafted into this.
Finally, this is the film and role where Jonathan Groff really gets to shine. Many know him as a more glossy, pop Broadway singer (he was on "Glee" too), but in C.O.G. he finally shows off how much range and ability he truly has. Perfectly cast, nuanced, layered, bringing such an immense amount of depth to his character that it wouldn't have worked with anyone else. As I already mentioned, Denis O'Hare as a key supporting character is fantastic, along with the rest of the cast including Dean Stockwell and Casey Wilson. I know this is a movie that will continue to stick with me well beyond Sundance, and for all the right reasons, too.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10