David Sedaris’ writing spawned a play—The Santaland Diaries—back in 1996, but the smartass satirist has long resisted cinematic adaptations of his work. Until now, that is. Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s intermittently engaging but inconsistent C.O.G. is adapted from an essay about Sedaris’ experiences picking apples in Oregon, and our state indeed plays a starring role, cast as a misty land of mountains, fruit trees and arcadian dreams dashed by economic reality. Glee’s Jonathan Groff plays Sedaris, a windbag Yalie who’s come to the Northwest with Grapes of Wrath fantasies. But he’s also fleeing family trouble seemingly due to his recent emergence from the closet. Preppy sweater on his back and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in his satchel (when a heavily tatted religious freak asks about his aversion to the Bible, Groff answers that it’s “poorly written”), he’s blind to his own privilege and doesn’t play well with the Mexican laborers and working-class employees out West. Nor does he handle himself much better with the crotchety orchard owner (a pitch-perfect Dean Stockwell) or the hunky forklift operator, who boasts a dildo collection that would shame She Bop. C.O.G. adopts a more introspective tone once Groff lands himself with Jesus enthusiast Jon, who makes jade clocks in the shape of the state of Oregon—they’re tchotchkes to which not even the proudest Oregonians would thrill. Occasionally, the film’s tone seesaws when it should glide, jagging from silly (the out-of-touch Groff tries to feed roast beef to a cow) to tender to painful. But Groff has an emotionally transparent face, and he’s simultaneously believable as an arrogant elitist and as a fearful young man. And, hey, at least Oregon looks great.
Critic’s Grade: B
SEE IT: C.O.G. is rated R. It opens Friday at Hollywood Theatre.