Jonathan Groff (of TV’s Looking and Broadway’s Hamilton) stars in this 2013 film based on a short story of the same name by humorist David Sedaris. In the film, Groff plays David, a privileged, Yale-educated young man who flees what many would consider to be a good life in New York for an off-the-grid “change of pace” in a small blue-collar factory town in Oregon.
Once in Oregon, he takes on a series of blue-collar jobs. Working around people without the same opportunities he had for whom this type of work is mostly likely their lot in life until they retire or die, David gets what appears to be his first taste of what it’s like to be an outsider. And being a young man of privilege (not that he’s particularly aware of it), this doesn’t sit well with him as he’s tried to connect with them – albeit through his trip to Japan, a place most of these people have never and will probably never get to. Still, he sees no reason why they shouldn’t like him if for no other reason than the fact that he made an effort.
There are two other somewhat unrelated parts to C.O.G. – making the entire film inadvertently seem as if it exists as three largely unrelated stories with David as their only link. Corey Stoll (TV’s House of Cards) appears in the second part of the film as a factory worker who sees in David what he can’t openly express of himself and takes an immediate liking to him. In the third part, Denis O’Hare (TV’s American Horror Story) plays a Christian sculptor who takes David under his wing to teach him both the trade and the ways of Christ.
Several other themes run through C.O.G.: connection (with his fellow workers as well as with Curly), sexuality (in terms of having that in common with Curly) and religion (as presented to David through Jon). Though the overarching themes of discovery and belonging permeate the film, the three underlying themes play themselves out pretty sequentially – though neither come together at the end.
Instead, the film ends without a definitive conclusion – or even much by way of ambiguity. Once he discovers David’s presumably unrealized proclivities, Jon drives off and leaves David on what appears to be the outskirts of town to fend for himself in getting to wherever he’s going to go from there. And that’s it.
So while it appears that David never found that sense of belonging in this small Oregon town, we’re also not really sure what, if anything, he even discovered while he was there. So one might be left with a feeling that they missed something as the movie ended and/or questioning what they just saw, what it was really about and what happens next to David.
Interestingly, the character of David is not far off from Groff’s Patrick character on Looking in terms of the naivete, narrow-mindedness and pretense. And speaking nothing to Groff himself in real-life, he plays these types of characters very well. Because while you want to dislike David at times, there is still a part of you hoping things to turn out well for him – despite the greater desire for there to be some sort of consequence to his life. After all, even if things didn’t work out for him in Oregon, we all know that he’ll be fine wherever he winds up anyway.
So perhaps this film is more about privilege than anything else – but just doesn’t know it.