Someone Finally Made a David Sedaris Movie

Brow Beat
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

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.