Sundance 2013: ‘C.O.G.’ Reminded David Sedaris of “How Pretentious and Horrible I Was”

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PARK CITY, UTAH: Before C.O.G., the new comedy/drama from Kyle Patrick Alvarez that premiered last night at the Sundance Film Festival, David Sedaris had never allowed his work to be adapted into a feature film. There were plenty of offers, which Sedaris usually turned down to protect his family. But Alvarez had two feathers in his cap: the story he wanted to adapt (from Sedaris’s essay collection Naked) didn’t include the family, and Sedaris “just loved” Alvarez’s first movie, Easier with Practice. Once he gave the project the go-ahead, however, Sedaris stayed out of the way — so much so that he saw the film for the first time at Sunday night’s Sundance premiere.

“It was such an odd experience to sit in the audience,” Sedaris said after the screening, “and watch this movie based on something you wrote, and especially when it’s something you wrote with you in it. I always understood that it would be Kyle’s interpretation of the story I wrote… He and I never talked — we would get together when I would go to Los Angeles, but I didn’t read the script, I didn’t care to, you know what I mean? It was his project. And so, because we didn’t communicate about things like that, it was interesting to see the things… Well, it’s painful to be reminded of how pretentious and horrible I was.”

From its opening scene, C.O.G. gets the distinctive Sedaris voice down cold: a little provocative, a little profane, a lot funny. The story follows Samuel (Jonathan Groff), the Sedaris surrogate, as he goes to Oregon after graduation to pick apples and work with his hands: “I’m going off the radar for a while,” he explains. “It’s going to be amazing.” It certainly isn’t predictable, and Alvarez nimbly navigates the story’s shifts between comic and dramatic beats while capturing the author’s carefully cultivated persona: smart but sometimes snobbish, wise yet often foolish, capable of both telling the joke and being the butt of it.

It’s also richer than one might expect from a film based on a short story — because, at nearly 50 pages, it’s much longer than your average Sedaris essay. “It was written before I started going on lecture tours,” the author explained. “So I never would’ve written that story now, because I never write anything that’s over 11 pages, because that just takes more than half an hour to read. It’s just too long. My producer for my books on tape said, ‘Oh, we never recorded that, so why don’t we record this for the next book?’ And she gave me it to me, and I couldn’t believe how — I said, I’m not reading that. It just goes on and on and on and on.”

C.O.G. screens this week at the Sundance Film Festival.