Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez.
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Casey Wilson, Dean Stockwell, Troian Bellisario, Dale Dickey.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Synopsis: Samuel (Jonathan Groff) is a self-assured twenty-something on the road to find himself. A metaphorical and physical journey, the Ivy League graduate finds himself challenged by all he meets.
Pretentious and socially awkward, Samuel buries his head in stories of the American Dream while trying to find his place after graduation and a succession of failed relationships. Parental issues may be hinted at, but Alvarez’s film focuses on the positives of self-discovery rather than the negatives of reminiscing.
The planting of Henry David Thoreau and Willa Cather may come across as obvious, but when Samuel emerges as a walking cliché of privileged youth, you expect nothing less. Bright-eyed but reserved in exuberance, Groff’s know-it-all wanderer is easy to dislike. Finding himself working in an apple yard having never seen a day of manual labour, his initial unwillingness to get stuck in ruffles more than a few feathers. However, boss man Hobbs (Dean Stockwell) takes a chance on him which sees Samuel shot up the apple manufacturing ranks.
Thrown into the lion’s den (or should that be hens’?), Samuel finds a rare masculine ray of hope in the form of forklift driver, Curly (Corey Stoll). Turning in consistently impressive roles of late, Stoll cannot escape from feeling shortchanged when serving as little more than a catalyst for realisation. Where one particular, somewhat uncomfortable scene appears to belong to another movie, C.O.G. could easily have excluded this comical interlude and removed Curly entirely.
After Hobbs sends him to run errands early on in the film due to fruit-related tardiness, Samuel bumps into the infectious Jon (Denis O’Hare). A self-proclaimed atheist, the meeting is brushed off by the youngster, but God is shown to work in mysterious ways when the two find their paths crossing at a later juncture. At its most comfortable and engrossing when spent with Jon and Samuel, there is a beautiful shred of spirituality that runs throughout. It may open and close as a road movie of sorts, but the reluctance to let Christ into his life lets Groff showcase an impressive range that results in the audience wanting him to succeed. And, thankfully, its treatment of religion never falls into offensive parody; most touching in a stunning church-based scene that sees tears streaming down Samuel’s face.
Alvarez’s second directorial outing owes a great deal to Groff and O’Hare. Interesting and thought-provoking, this very promising piece feels cut off a little too soon when a lot about Jon is left unexplained. A film of many parts, the road to finding out who Samuel truly is deserves to raise Jonathan Groff far above his Broadway hero status.