Since her role on the sitcom Hollywood Crackers, comedian Meg Stalter has dominated the likable character market. Instead, she subtly stole the show as Kayla's incompetent and assertive assistant in HBO's Emmy-winning comedy, turning the jaded rich girl into an archetype, lifestyle and personal brand. It was only a matter of time before some enterprising writers gave her their star vehicle and she would be as entertaining as the protagonist of 'Cora Bora'.
A classic comedy about a struggling musician trying to win back his girlfriend, 'Cora Bora' follows a fairly predictable formula, right down to the odd twist on orgiastic polycommunity. The stater is a whirlwind and a universe unto itself, and other players are simply responding to the madness it creates. While thoroughly entertaining, the uncomfortable and confident underdog isn't enough to carry the entire film, but its beauty goes a long way toward elevating familiar material.
Based between Los Angeles and Portland, Cora Bora follows musician Cora (Stalter) as she strums her acoustic guitar into a low-frequency open mic. "I'm a big fish in a small pond," he said of his recent move to Los Angeles, where his manager says he has the voting rights. His remaining connections to Portland include his parents and long-distance partner. Justin (Jojo T. Gibbs), appears as "Justin's boyfriend" on the phone. Although not single, Cora never thought about the mysterious female voice that drifted in the background of Justin's phone calls.
Deciding to surprise Justin, Cora steals a first class seat on an upstate plane where she meets (and ignores) a handsome musician (Manny Jacinto). Moving into her old home, which has almost become her own, Cora awakens to the sight of her comfortable home as her new boyfriend, Riley (Aiden Meyer), folds her clothes and serves her tea. Both accomplished comedians Mairie and Stalter, Cora constantly changes Riley's name and enjoys rowdy dancing while pretending she knows how to behave at home.
Much of the film's comedy is based on Cora's wild megalomania, which she shamelessly shares with anyone who will listen. "Los Angeles is beautiful," she boasted. “I mean, humans are real. It's like everyone's trying to be… something they're not. With his easy words and awkward pauses, Stater brushes off any hint of hesitation, showing that the reality Cora constructs is loosely hanging by a thread. Suffering from his machinations, those around him struggle to maintain the illusion even though he doesn't seem to notice or care.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a brief scene between Cora, played by Darrell Hammond, and her father, the humor rarely reaches high levels of laughs. Cora is furious when she learns that her parents have bonded with Riley in her absence, even attending her massage parlor. "Excuse me, did you touch my father?" "Finally I can walk again," she said, not caring about his honest answer.
Kora's ill-fated journey with Taco, a genre that is constantly evolving, ends badly. After getting hitched by some suspicious teenagers and running out of Portland's options, Cora finds herself in a poly community of beaver meat and taxidermy. Even a brief cameo from Margaret Cho can't help but make the nonsensical direction feel out of place, and instead of adding more color, it just draws attention to a tangled narrative.
Cora Bora, written by Rhiannon Jones and directed by Hannah Pearl Utt, is a bold attempt at inclusive comedy. Of course, comedies about young people are rarely lacking, and naturally female directors want to try their hand at the genre. Stater makes a strong impression on screen, but his aesthetic seems more suited to a slovenly character than a strong "straight" character.
With a well-crafted premise and emotional depth until the "Hail Mary" section pops up at the end of the final act, this film feels like a series of images wrapped in a larger mantra. Unfortunately, charisma alone is not a compelling story. "Cora Bora" is as pointless as its main character and just as annoying.
Cora Bora premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
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