If there’s no place like home, then don’t leave it!
After a supposed falling-out with his parents, David (Jonathan Groff), now going under the alias of “Samuel”, decides to leave his rich, stuck-up home life in Connecticut, and get some country in him. So, he arrives in Oregon where he becomes an apple-picker and sooner than later, finds himself to be quite good at the job, despite trying desperately to fit in and find something more to do than just pick apples for $40 a day. But eventually, his boss (Dean Stockwell) realizes that he’s of no use in the fields and therefore, sends him to work in the apple-factory where they practically do the same thing, but with less time and effort. Still though, David finds it hard to fit in or connect with anybody in that department, due solely to the fact that he’s just a bit too uppity for those bumble folk’s tastes. However though, David catches the eye of co-worker Curly (Corey Stoll) and they soon begin to start hanging around one another which starts as playful and friendly, only to take a strange turn for the worst. Also thrown into the mix is a local preacher by the name of Jon (Denis O’Hare) who may not be all that right in the head, but means well and tries to help David become a Child of God. Or so he says.
We’ve all seen the whole “young guy trying to figure it all out”-idea done a million, gazillion times and for the most part, they usually work. It mainly takes a fresh, vibrant and original voice out there to make it work and I think that known-author David Sedaris is definitely the right voice to make that happen. What Sedaris does well is that he hand-feeds you a plot that you expect to go from Destination-A, to Destination-B, in the most conventional way, with the most obvious jokes and practically little to no surprises when it comes to actual insight into these characters, as well as our protagonist who is actually the one that’s supposed to living and learning. But somehow, Sedaris changes things up and when you think you’re going to get a fish-out-of-water, dark comedy, we get something that is still quite dark, but not necessarily funny anymore.
Instead rather, the movie starts to take a dark-turn for the worst, but it’s done in such a subtle way that it doesn’t feel jarring. We mainly just as watch as this David guy, as unlikable as he may truly be, practically get shit on by everybody that’s around him, regardless as to whether or not he deserved it. Sometimes, however, he does. Sometimes the guy definitely uses his wise-cracks in conversation when he shouldn’t and he definitely doesn’t act the smartest when he’s trying to make a good impression on those around him. But usually, something unfortunate happens to him and it gets very hard-to-watch, mainly because it just feels wrong; but it always stays believable and I think that’s the fine-line this movie draws.
Most movies like this that try to capture what it’s like to live in the countryside where everybody has their own set of morals and/or sets of rules, which are usually so old-school, that they are easily picked-on, pointed at and scoffed at. This movie’s different in the way though that it doesn’t quite pass judgement on these locals, and more or less allows them to be themselves and have you be the judge on if they’re good people or not. Not everybody in this movie is exactly what they seem, and just when they do begin to show their true colors, you still don’t know whether that makes them a good, or a bad person. There’s a lot of thinking going on here, and although that makes there actually less to enjoy, the fact still remains that the movie kept me interested the whole way through; especially when it kept throwing surprises at me in terms of certain character’s-developments, as well as what it was trying to say about the whole “finding God” aspect of this story that it really does hit on the head plenty of times during the final-half.
Not to spoil too much, but the whole religious-angle this movie shows, is never done in a ham-handed or preachy way. Nor does it really hate on people who do hold religious-beliefs either. The movie just shows us that some people need a higher-power like God to make them feel special and worth living for, whereas for others, it just shows that some people don’t really care if there is a God or not. They just want to live, be happy and make others happy as well, even without all of the praying and crosses hanging around the rooms. The movie doesn’t get much deeper than that, but it’s a smart move considering how many movies trash overly-religious folks, rather than just showing how the idea of religion in their lives affects them and makes them who we see on the outside, much more than on the inside.
And I think that much attention and detail to what makes these characters, whom it is that we see, against who it is that they really are, is what keeps this flick moving, even at its most questionable-choices. Most importantly, David himself is a character that continued to interest me, even though I didn’t really like him as much. Hell, I actually couldn’t stand him at certain points either. It’s especially clear to us that this is definitely the type of kid that’s never heard “no” in his life, has always excelled in class, got into every Ivy League school he applied to and chalks up a “bad day” to getting a B+ on his latest Biology test. None of that makes him a bad person, per se, but it does make him a bit of a snob, especially considering how hard he tries to fit in here, despite saying and doing all of the wrong things to do so.
But it’s a real surprise that although we see this guy develop and learn more things about life over time, we never quite see him change. That frustrated me, but it also interested me as well and made me actually wonder if this guy is actually learning anything new about life at all. I can see why he would want to venture out to the countryside and start to live it up in a life that he’s only read of, but the fact that he goes about it in such a lazy way, made me sort of want to smack him in the face and send his ass back to Yale. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Groff is very good in this lead role and makes it seem like he’s a lot more fragile and scared than he what he actually shows people as being, but after awhile, it’s pretty clear that David gets shoved to the back of the story, and more of the supporting characters come in and give their own two cents about why they matter and why they should be the centerpiece of what this story means.
And with two great actors like Corey Stoll and Denis O’Hare, you honestly cannot complain about that. Stoll doesn’t get nearly as much to do as O’Hare does here, but as the co-worker-turned-buddy of David’s, Curly, Stoll is a charming, if odd presence that kept me wondering about what he was going to possibly say or do next on-screen. Mostly though, I expected him to just do a bunch of weird stuff and that’s usually what happened, but it wasn’t done in a dumb way. On the other hand though, O’Hare gets a huge-amount of material to work with as the very troubled, very unpredictable local preacher known as Jon that, for reasons I can’t necessarily give away, takes David under his wing in a professional, and spiritual-manner.
O’Hare’s great here and really gets to the inner-demons of just how mean and detestable this guy was back in the day, and how some of that is still left in him today. We know that he loves the Lord Almighty and although he may push it down David’s throat as that being the “answer to all of your problems”, we never feel like he’s annoying or over-bearing presence. He’s just the type of guy who loves God and needs some guidance in his life, and I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing so bad about that. Is there? Okay, maybe so, but not for him at least and that’s why watching O’Hare in this movie was great because of the way he surprised me with his character, showing us just how dark one man can get, despite showing-off this wonderful, beautiful and bright aura about him and what it is that he talks about.
Consensus: Not everything that C.O.G. tries to do with its story may work, but with a cast of wonderful performers and plenty of interesting characters that develop into being more than what we originally see them as being, there’s still plenty more to like here, than not like.
7 / 10 = Rental!!