David Sedaris story gets a flat and confused film adaptation

October 26, 2013

from The Raleigh News & Observer

The writing of David Sedaris is such a delicate thing. Surely one of America’s best and most artful humorists, Sedaris’ carefully crafted personal essays can be deeply melancholy and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time.

Sedaris, who grew up in Raleigh, is also a gifted performer, in his particularly circumscribed arena. His book tours – in which he reads passages from his stories – are major events that more closely resemble the theater tours of A-list stand-up comics. He does all his own audiobooks, too, and as his legion of fans can tell you, the idea of anyone else reading his stories seems impossible.

So the task of adapting Sedaris’ work to film is a tall order indeed, one that the author has firmly resisted up until now. I wish he’d kept resisting.

The flat and confused comedy-drama “C.O.G.” is based on an essay of the same name in Sedaris’ very funny book, “Naked.” As in the book, the film chronicles the adventures of a young man named David as he retreats from his own life by heading out West to work on an apple farm.

The film trumpets its tonal problems in the very first scene, in which David is stuck with a scary seatmate on his bus ride to Oregon. As the young woman next to him literally screams a shockingly profane monologue, David (played by the bland Jonathan Groff) simply sits in stunned silence.

In the book, this sequence is seriously messed up and really, really funny. In the film, it’s just messed up. By opting against voice-over narration, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“Easier With Practice”) makes a bold choice, but a bad one. Without the wry comic distance of Sedaris’ own internal monologues, the scene dies a violent death right in front of our eyes.

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