COG: How I spent my summer vacation, David Sedaris style

by Mark Burger

Stretching a short story — or, in this case, an essay — into feature length is a daunting prospect for any filmmaker, but screenwriter/producer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez makes a valiant attempt with COG (**’), which is based on an essay by noted humorist David Sedaris.

Jonathan Groff plays David, a straight-laced malcontent who decides to spend his summer working on an apple farm in Oregon. Originally, he was to have been joined by his friend Jennifer (Troian Bellisario), but she blithely ditches him to be with her boyfriend. This is the first of several disasters which befall him, not all of which are undeserved.

There’s no reason to feel sorry for David (or “Sam,” as he calls himself in these surroundings), because he feels sorry enough for himself. Invariably he says the wrong thing, inadvertently insulting those around him and further alienating himself from the people he meets. Only Curly (Corey Stoll), a friendly forklift operator, and Jon (Denis O’Hare), a born-again, one-legged Gulf War veteran, attempt to establish friendship with David — albeit for very different reasons.

The film does take some time to find its stride, but rambles along in amiable fashion throughout. Edgy at times, silly at others, COG does manage to successfully translate some of Sedaris’ droll wit and wry observations. It’s to Groff’s credit that he manages to make David more sympathetic than insufferable (although it’s sometimes a close race), and Stoll and O’Hare are terrific in support. It’s also refreshing that Jon’s born-again “status” isn’t used for cheap laughs when so many mainstream comedies would have gone that route. That’s not to say the film doesn’t find humor in the situation, but it does so in a creative and credible fashion.

COG is scheduled to open Friday in Greensboro.