Friday, September 20, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Getting My Fix

When asked by a street evangelist if he knows what the initials C.O.G. stand for in the new movie of the same name out today, young Samuel (out actor Jonathan Groff of Glee and Broadway fame) sardonically replies, “Capable of genocide?” It is one of the few genuinely witty moments that fans of gay writer David Sedaris have come to expect to be included in this rather grim autobiographical film.

Adapted and directed by the talented Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who last made the very good gender-bending romance Easier with Practice, C.O.G. (which actually stands for “Child of God”) follows Samuel’s personal journey from recent Yale graduate alienated by his parents for undisclosed reasons to fruit picker on an apple farm in rural Oregon. Claiming that he wants to “get (his) hands dirty,” Samuel fools few people least of all the farm’s owner, Mr. Hobbs (played by the always enjoyable Dean Stockwell). Hobbs soon promotes Samuel to a position in his apple-sorting facility, where he catches the eye of attractive forklift operator Curly (Corey Stoll, memorable as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris).

When Curly gets a little too aggressive with his intentions, Samuel seeks refuge with the aforementioned street evangelist, Jon. Played by out Tony Award winner Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story), Jon is a born-again Gulf War veteran. He is also a one-legged recovering alcoholic with anger issues. Jon takes Samuel under his wing initially and teaches him the stone-cutting trade while also trying to convert his atheist protégé to Christianity. It isn’t long though before things between them start to get ugly.

I really wanted to like C.O.G., being a fan myself of Sedaris’ writing, of Alvarez and of the great actors assembled here. Unfortunately, the screenplay lacks focus (not unlike its protagonist) and is more often cruel than comedic. Characters start out likeable but most aren’t so by the end of the film. If events such as those depicted helped Sedaris to find his voice as a writer, then great but this is ultimately unclear in the movie. The only additional thing for which to recommend the film apart from the cast’s fine performances turns out to be Jas Shelton’s great, naturalistic cinematography of the beautiful Pacific Northwest countryside.

While similarly harrowing in spots, Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing (also opening this weekend) is a sharper and much funnier movie about, of all things, sex addiction. It also boasts a great cast including Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow, The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad and, in her feature film debut, Alecia Moore, a.k.a. pop/rock singer Pink. All are exceptional as either addicts or the people who love them, with Ruffalo potentially award-worthy for his shattering Jekyll & Hyde-like turn. (This duality seems to be becoming a specialty of Ruffalo’s when one also considers his popular performance as Dr. Bruce Banner/the Hulk in Marvel’s The Avengers and its upcoming sequel.)

Successful environmental consultant Adam (Ruffalo) has just marked his fifth year of sobriety from out of control, meaningless sex when it is challenged by the arrival of both a 12 step-skirting young newcomer to his support group (Gad) and a perfect-appearing woman, Phoebe (Paltrow), who presents Adam with his first dating opportunity since entering recovery. Meanwhile, Mike (Robbins), Adam’s devoted sponsor, has to confront longtime unresolved issues when his drug-addict son (all-grown-up Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous fame) reappears on his and his wife’s doorstep, or rather in their kitchen.

Blumberg makes his directorial debut on Thanks for Sharing in the wake of his Oscar-nominated screenplay for 2010’s lesbian-themed The Kids Are All Right. I found his writing on that film as well as his previous script Keeping the Faith strained and credibility-testing at times, but here Blumberg and co-writer Matt Winston (the Yale-educated son of late makeup and creature artist Stan Winston) make pretty much all the right moves while walking a delicate tightrope between deadly-serious dramatic scenes and some guffaw-inducing comedic moments. Most of the latter are courtesy of the very talented Gad, who also inspires heartbreak through his character’s escalating addictive behavior.

Ruffalo and Paltrow prove to have nice romantic/sexual chemistry together as well as great comic timing. I would love to see them work together again soon. While it goes to some dark but real places that will likely scare off more than a few moviegoers, Thanks for Sharing is one of the most mature and illuminating movies of this or any year. One could say I’m hooked on it.

Reverend’s Ratings:
C.O.G.: C
Thanks for Sharing: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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