Finally, one of Sedaris’ essays got made into a movie. I was so excited about this.
Most people said the movie, C.O.G, was terrible. But that doesn’t mean much. When a book becomes a movie, everyone who loved the book is likely to see it as a gruesome impostor wearing the disguise of a favorite novel. Well, in this case, that’s exactly what happened. The movie C.O.G is this loathsome, grueling monster wearing the sagging skin of a beloved friend. And I can tell you exactly why.
It. Wasn’t. A comedy.
Here’s what happens in the story, both book and movie. A young David Sedaris hops a bus across country to pick apples in Oregon. He’s really looking forward to reinventing himself to people who don’t know him. So he makes himself a Yale graduate world traveler named Samuel who is doing manual labor to reconnect with the common clay. Total arrogant jerkwad. And Sedaris skewers himself in the essay, brutal and brilliant.
Along the way bad shit just keeps happening. With every new character David meets, he hopes this one will save him. This person will be nice enough to inhabit the stereotype he wants them to be: a true friend, a loving father figure, a mentor, a devotee of his genius. And one by one they all fail him, often turning out to be ridiculously horrible people.
Now, it’s a given that most of this stuff didn’t actually happen. Sedaris has as much as said so. It that doesn’t change the fact that the essay was acerbic brilliance. Really horrible, and really funny. You’re laughing through a mouth dropped open in horror.
The movie somehow managed to press every last drop of humor out of that story. Every drop. Instead of a hapless smug bastard getting what he deserves, the movie-David is a lonely miserable kid constantly on the verge of crying. (BTW, Jonathan Groff…this isn’t your fault. You did good. They just gave you the wrong script.) The characters he meets aren’t funny at all, they’re just brutal and cold and vicious. With no humor to temper that, it’s a form of torture. Sedaris without laughs is just the musings of a horrible little man in a poisoned world.
A great illustration: In both movie and book Sedaris describes sitting next to a woman on the bus, who is screaming out the foulest ream of curse words you ever read/heard, many of which are devoted to her unborn baby. It’s horrible, but hand to god you laugh when you read it. Sedaris is detached from the cruelty and ugliness he sees around him, so we are too. We picture a cartoon of a woman, and it’s safe to laugh.
The movie opens with the same scene. Except this time the woman isn’t a cartoon. She’s a woman with eyes bulging in terrified madness. When she screams her filthy curses her voice cracks on the verge of tears. She’s desperate, miserable, trapped, and mentally unstable. She’s grotesque. It’s not funny.
And so on for the entire film. The director gives poignancy to stuff Sedaris was decidedly unsentimental about. Brief, cutting description becomes interminable camera angles focusing on all the pain in a character’s face. It wallows. It’s the ANTITHESIS of Sedaris.
Emotional, sentimental, packed full of special moments and deep penetrating sadness. Bllech. Sedaris’ work purposefully skirts around these things, letting the message bubble up all by itself between the lines. The movie smacks you over the head with the endless misery of the human condition until you beg for mercy. The movie C.O.G is the opposite of everything a fan of Sedaris likes about Sedaris