Someone Finally Made a David Sedaris Movie

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 24 2013 9:03 AM

The First David Sedaris Movie

2862030
David Sedaris in 2000

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

His books are so good that I never really wondered what a David Sedaris movie would be like. Someone else did, though: director Kyle Patrick Alvarez. And the resulting film, C.O.G., based on a story from Naked, premiered at Sundance this week. It marks the first time Sedaris has licensed a film based on his work, though perhaps not the last. Sedaris has written directly for the screen at least once, with the 1995 short film Smoking, directed by Matthew Modine. (He also wrote for the mid-’90s Comedy Central Show Exit 57, which featured Stephen Colbert as well as Sedaris’ sister Amy.)

C.O.G. (which stands for “child of God”) concerns a pompous Yale graduate named David, who, seeking a change in life and furious at his parents, takes a job picking apples in Oregon, partly inspired by Steinbeck. David, roughly modeled on Sedaris himself, is played by a likable Jonathan Groff. Before the film I asked Sedaris if he had ever thought of playing himself or taking some other role.

Advertisement

“Are you kidding?” he answered. “That would be so wrong, when there are so many real actors out there. It would be like when they cast rap stars in movies. If I were a black actor I’d just be furious.” He was happy that they were able to find a gay actor to play him, though.

The character David, in the film, is dismissive and elitist. He considers the Bible “poorly written” and advises blue-collar workers angry at Japan that it’s “a lovely place.” After the film, Sedaris said it reminded him “of just how pretentious and horrible I was.” Much of the film is a comedy of manners as he encounters all manner of people not typically found in a Yale seminar room.

It’s a funny and enjoyable movie, though it falls something short of terrific. It may be a problem of expectations, for the film doesn’t quite have that unmistakable Sedaris tone. In his books, Sedaris reveals the petty vanities and anxieties that drive so much of human behavior with an honesty that is somehow deeply endearing. That kind of openness is harder to accomplish on screen, where we don’t get inside the characters’ heads in the same way. Alvarez decided against using voiceover; Sedaris gave the director complete freedom with his adaptation. “I never wanted him to feel like he had to check in with me,” Sedaris said. “I didn’t care who he cast, I didn’t care to read the script.”

It is surely unfair to compare the film to the books. Still, fans hoping to find the spirit of Sedaris on screen may have to keep waiting a little while longer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They’re just not ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 2:11 PM Spare the Rod What Charles Barkley gets wrong about corporal punishment and black culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.