elevationminds

Megan Stalter Shines in Wry Portland-Set Comedy

Everywhere Cora (Megan Stalter) goes, she finds herself in situations that beg others to ask one simple yet pointed question: “What is wrong with you?” Cora may brush off such flippant passive-aggressive digs at her wellbeing and overall sense of composure, but it’s soon clear that Hannah Pearl Utt’s wry comedy “Cora Bora” will forcefully (and hilariously) get this aspiring musician to reckon with the life she’s trying to build for herself in Los Angeles, away from her family, her girlfriend and a past she’ll soon no longer be able to run away from.

Life in L.A. doesn’t seem to be going well for Cora. In between daytime gigs at mostly empty coffee shops and late night gigs at even emptier bars, her solo career looks to be floundering. With titles like “Dreams Are Stupid” and “Don’t Wanna Hear You Anymore,” her embittered folksy songs garner her few fans. They’re a far cry from the rueful pop stylings of her erstwhile group “The Maybe Nots,” which is no more.

Cora’s hookups these days are awkward and sometimes even end in tears. Suddenly, even her manager is leaving the industry to start up a microbrewery with her soon-to-be-husband, all while Cora’s girlfriend Justine (Jojo T. Gibb) back in Portland keeps dodging her calls — proof perhaps that their open relationship may not be working out that well for either of them. There’s only so much delusion that can fuel Cora’s current situation. And so, in a futile attempt to curry favor with Justine, Cora books a flight home to surprise Justine at her graduation party.

Toying with a familiar narrative (“Cora Bora” is ostensibly a homecoming tale about finding your way back to yourself), Rhianon Jones’s script nonetheless plants enough unexpected left turns that make Cora’s wayward days in Portland feel like playful twists on well-worn tropes. It helps that throughout her journey — which has her smoking weed with Justine’s new girlfriend (Ayden Mayeri’s Riley, as flummoxed by Cora’s return as anyone else), hanging out with a group of young friends who randomly invite her into their van, trying to get into a bar where a bouncer won’t let her in and ridesharing to the outskirts of the city for a Tinder match — Stalter gets joined by a string of stellar actors that nicely play off Cora’s frazzled energy.

Yes, there are Margaret Cho, Darrell Hammond and Chelsea Peretti cameos. But perhaps the most inspired supporting casting choice here is Manny Jacinto (“The Good Place”) as a bespectacled and all-around nice guy who keeps running into Cora in increasingly distressing situations. In another film, Jacinto’s Tom would be a rom-com match with Cora. And while there is palpable chemistry between the two, Utt’s film refuses such a tidily knotted arc for them, even if their meet cute on a plane — where the ever-charming and bashful Jacinto meets Stalter’s dry delivery beat for beat — is a joy to watch.

Ultimately, “Cora Bora” places Stalter, in a cheetah-print fur coat, badly dyed blond streaks and green boots, front and center. For anyone who’s followed her work in the Max series “Hacks,” or who has been charmed by the comedian’s many viral social media videos (“Hi gay!” being, perhaps, her most well-known, spoofing as it did rainbow capitalism), “Cora Bora” is a welcome chance to see the performer in a quieter, more affecting register. Cora is a bit of a mess — messy, even — and Stalter’s signature awkward-inducing humor remains intact here. Her deadpan delivery of lines like “L.A. is amazing. The people are really real. Not real like they are here, but they’re really trying to be something that they’re not … yet” keys into her ability to make non-sequiturs into comedy gold.

Dropped into a story that slowly (too slowly, perhaps) reveals itself to be about how Cora is struggling to move past a traumatic moment in her recent past, Jones’s screenplay gives Stalter plenty of opportunities to lace her cringe-worthy humor with more melancholy notes. It’s a tricky tonal balance that sometimes falters (an odd late-night would-be orgy with folks allergic to labels and into late-night music jams feels a bit too off-kilter), and that requires some suspension of disbelief, especially with regard to how Justine and Cora approach their distinct long-distance dynamic.

Despite such unevenness, “Cora Bora” plays like a funny, fleshed-out character portrait of a flailing young woman trying to understand why her equally abrasive and aloof demeanor are doing her no favors. Scored with songs by Miya Folick (who fronts The Maybe Nots in the film) that bring out a poignant, soft pop rock sensibility to the proceedings, this distressing sojourn through Portland proves to be a (mostly) enjoyable romp — both softer- and harder-edged than Stalter’s own brand of comedy would initially suggest.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.