Surprisingly, no one has ever thought to adapt one of David Sedaris’ short stories into a film. Of all the possible selections, “C.O.G.” seems like one of the less appealing choices (though it is one of the more robust stories in Naked, starting at page 153 and ending at 201). Still, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s second feature shows undeniable promise—even though his debut, Easier With Practice, is far superior. Alvarez’s attraction to the story is simple enough to understand as it's about a sheltered type renouncing his normal way of life to go apple picking and get off the grid for awhile. The potential for hilarity knows no bounds, especially when you’re picturing David Sedaris in this scenario. Unfortunately, it is Jonathan Groff (known for his roles in Glee and Taking Woodstock) you have to see instead—who is not nearly as gawkily humorous as Sedaris.
There are a number of problems with transforming a short, distinctly autobiographical story into a watchable narrative. The first and foremost issue with C.O.G. is that Sedaris himself is so singular in his mannerisms and affectations, that it seems pointless to try emulating his “character.” The adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors suffered a similar fate. Presumably one of many coming-of-age stories in Sedaris’ wheelhouse, C.O.G. takes one of the author's more esoteric experiences and turns it into something decidedly weird and uncomfortable, rather than entertaining and enlightening (as most of Sedaris’ work is). Although in the short story version Sedaris is escaping his prior job working as a dishwasher for privileged college students, C.O.G. changes it to the main character being a graduate student from Yale who seems to have lost his sense of purpose.
David's motives for going to Oregon to try his hand at apple picking remain the same: His friend, Veronica--or Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) in the movie--is inspired to pronounce, "Migrant labor, that's the life for us" after reading a copy of The Grapes of Wrath while living with Sedaris in San Francisco. One of many discrepancies in the film is that Jennifer leaves David before she even arrives in Oregon, whereas, in Sedaris' version, it isn't until after a season of picking together, when the two return to North Carolina, that Veronica gets a boyfriend and decides not to return with David.
Among the few friends David makes is Timothy, better known as Curly (Corey Stoll), a fork lift operator who works at the apple factory where David has been recommended by his former boss, Hobbs (Dean Stockwell) at the apple orchard. Unlike in the story, David is actually eager to be friends with Curly, who seems to pick up instantly on the fact that David is a repressed gay man. Conversely, when Curly makes a move on David in the source material, David's internal reaction is: "...it horrified me to think that he might have mistaken me for one of his own. Was it my clothing? The pallor of my skin? My tendency to let my mouth hang open while bored?" David's situation is worsened once Curly lures him back to his trailer and into his bedroom. While the film incarnation of David is wont to stand there mutely in front of Curly's collection of dildos, the literary version sounds a bit more coherent as he muses, "Whatever Curly's theatrical fear, it could not begin to match my genuine horror as he opened the door to his bedroom."
The motives and aspirations of film David and literary David are also very different. The David in the movie is escaping a recently revealed truth--that he's gay--to his parents, while the David in the short story is about exploring new options and starting anew, noting, "If I could just stay here a little longer, perhaps I could form the emotional calluses people needed to leave their pasts behind them and begin new lives for themselves." It is at this point in the short story that Jonathan Combs, C.O.G. (Denis O'Hare) is introduced. Earlier in the film, however, David encounters him after Hobbs demands that he goes to refill his container of gas. Once David rolls the barrel all the way into town that he encounters Jon passing out a pamphlet that asks, "Are you with C.O.G.?" Naturally, Jon's inclination is to start harassing the obviously faithless David by asking him what he thinks C.O.G. stands for, to which David replies, "I don't know. Capable of genocide?"
In both the movie and the story, David has no choice but to turn to Jon for help--particularly after he surrenders his job at the factory. The relationship they share in each incarnation is disparate. Ultimately, in C.O.G., the rapport between Jon and David leads to a dramatic and saddening conclusion, while, in the short story, it takes on a much more light-hearted tone. What can be said for C.O.G. is that it gives you hope for another, better David Sedaris story to be rendered on film--and hopefully next time something much more comical (maybe something from Me Talk Pretty One Day, so Amy Sedaris can play herself to perfection).