When viewers first meet aspiring indie musician Cora (Meg Stalter) in Cora Bora, a new indie comedy premiering out of SXSW, she’s on stage at a seedy Los Angeles nightclub, singing a lilting, self-written tune called, “Dreams Are Stupid, and So Are You.” Well, it’s either that or, “All Those Who Wander Are Totally Fucking Lost.” It’s hard to be sure. She can’t quite figure out where to put the emphasis in her performance, a far cry from the film’s opening credit montage, where Cora and her former bandmates brought down the house at a gig a few years back.
Cora, like almost every other twenty-to-thirty-something, is doing all she can to not feel like she’s floundering. Her move down the coast from Portland to Los Angeles was abrupt, but it was her only choice if she wanted to keep her own momentum going. But an onslaught of bookings at hipster coffee shops and shitty bars has all but crushed her. Still, that’s something she’s unwilling to accept, even if her lunch is forkfuls of tuna from the can, and her booze and weed come from house parties in the Valley that she stumbles into after some tangential invite.
The sheer lack of confidence on display from Cora may come as a surprise to viewers who know Stalter from her wildly funny, breakout comedy sketches on Instagram. Millions of views and endless memes brought Stalter to the first two seasons of Hacks, where she shined among a group of seasoned performers, effortlessly holding her own against Jean Smart. While Cora shares flashes of Stalter’s awkward, ultra-specific brand of comedic delivery, she’s much more shaded when compared to the wackadoo personas you might find on her Instagram account. (Hi, gay!)
But seeing Stalter tap into a dramatic side we haven’t yet witnessed is thrilling. The social media comedian-to-successful dramatic actor pipeline is pretty dry (save for Quinta Brunson), and Stalter is more than up to the challenge in director Hannah Pearl Utt’s feature. When Cora begins to think that her open relationship with her girlfriend in Portland, Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs), is on the rocks, she packs up her guitar and heads north to surprise her, facing a series of hilarious roadblocks that exacerbate her already tense homecoming.
Cora Bora is straight out of 2014—a sort of Obvious Child meets Portlandia fever dream for Tumblr hipsters nostalgic for a forgotten time that wasn’t even a decade ago. And that’s a high compliment. It’s rare to see an indie comedy so sure of itself from the jump, let alone one that’s actually funny. Even when writer Rhianon Jones’ screenplay stretches Cora’s antics a little too thin, viewers remain piqued for whatever shenanigans she might get into next. But it’s Stalter’s brazen conviction that really sells the film. Carried on the shoulders of Cora’s leopard print, faux fur coat, Cora Bora is a taught indie that straddles funny and forlorn with unexpected depth.
Cora’s journey back to her hometown is fraught from the start, as any travel scheduled after a bad hookup with a flat-earther probably would be. Her broken guitar case doesn’t exactly fall under what most airlines would call an “appropriate carry-on item.” Even a little assistance from a helpful (and handsome) fellow passenger, Tom (Manny Jacinto), is comedically rebuked. After all, if Cora can make it on her own in the world without her bandmates, she can certainly make it to Portland in one piece—or she keeps telling herself.
Turns out, Cora’s a bit more damaged than she’s willing to let on. And though she’s trying to never let anyone see her sweat, her determination to remain cool and collected at all times is visible from miles away. This makes for uproarious sequences when Cora surprises Justine, who is now living with another woman, Riley (Ayden Mayeri). Instantly thrust into frenetic preservation mode, Cora calmly tries to woo Justine back, while juggling the defeat of coming home, where she’s facing her parents, old college friends, and run-ins with Tom around town.
Cora Bora’s ensemble cast all achieve a droll symbiosis. Characters flit in and out of Cora’s orbit, covertly trying to figure out what’s wrong with her, while treating her like an emotional grenade that could go off at any second. Cameo appearances by comedians with similar audiences to Stalter’s keep the film moving at a steady pace, without feeling like a ploy to keep viewers engaged. Jones’ script does that just fine, peppering in plenty of jokes to stretches of Cora’s haphazard introspection.
The film occasionally works itself up to a great momentum and stumbles a bit, with extended sequences that find Cora unable to extricate herself from a bad decision after the situation has already been tapped of both its comedic and dramatic potential. But luckily, those brief moments of frustration are accompanied by revelations to explain Cora’s flighty mental state. It’s here where Stalter shines the most. Anyone with an internet connection knows that Stalter is a skilled comic presence. But when she taps into Cora’s charged emotional state, Stalter lifts the film from its witty base into a sincerely affecting piece of dramatic work.
Accompanied by an original score and songs from Miya Folick, Cora Bora settles into its own place in the indie rocker-girl genre quite nicely. It doesn’t try hard to be anything it isn’t, and flourishes by pulling from the memorable successes of small films like it. But though the film itself is modest, the heralding of Stalter as a legitimate star is not.
It’s impossible to come away from Cora Bora without feeling like you’ve just seen the first glimpses of phenomenal new talent. Stalter grounds the film with a true sense of humanity while also being laugh-out-loud hysterical. In her hands, Cora feels laughably relatable to anyone who’s ever had to start over for the umpteenth time. Here’s a character who suggests that maybe, in some way, we’re always coming of age—and it’s always going to be uniquely uncomfortable.
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Post source: TDB