“Why do people keep asking me that?” Cora (Megan Stalter) asks somewhere around the fifth time in Cora Bora who angrily demanded to know what was wrong with him. His answer, when he bothered to give one, was none. But it became clear from the opening moments of Cora Bora that is very far from the case.
His fledgling music career seems to be going nowhere, despite the sweaty determination with which he delivers his broken guitar case from one club in Los Angeles to another that doesn’t quite make it. His love life is no longer promising: His open long-distance relationship with Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs) is increasingly distant, and the hookups he has on the side are more cringey than enjoyable. When he begins to suspect that Justine has fallen in love with someone else, he hastily buys a plane ticket back to Portland, where he unleashes more trouble.
The Bottom Line
Stalter delivers on a warm, if slightly thin, indie.
Location: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight)
Cast: Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs, Manny Jacinto, Ayden Mayeri
Director: Hannah Pearl Etc
Screenwriter: Rhiannon Jones
1 hour 32 minutes
that’s it Cora Bora embracing it all and embracing it anyway, finding both humor and pathos in his millennial malaise, is key to its appeal. But if the film’s strength lies in its love for its titular heroine, its biggest flaw is its comparative lack of attention to the characters surrounding her — resulting in a film that, for all its charm that beats, feels thinner than it should be.
By far the best reason to watch Cora Bora for Stalter, who in his first feature lead performance makes a convincing case for more. The actress is probably known for her turn in Hacks as Kayla, whose utter incompetence is only surpassed by her almost pathological self-confidence. Cora shares with Kayla a basic inability to be anyone but herself, as well as a general air of chaos. But Cora Bora also gives Stalter a chance to expand her range, bringing out new notes of sadness or uncertainty in Cora’s comedic bluster. In moments when the film asks her to dig deep, she breaks down Cora with such raw, torn honesty that it’s hard to look away.
Stalter also appears to have a beautiful, if unpolished, singing voice. Cora’s songs (written by Miya Folick, who has her own musical soundtrack to most of the film, with screenwriter Rhianon Jones) are drawn from her own life, and their lyrics are hilarious in their weariness. “Dreams are stupid and so is your belief in them,” said one. “Why try and be a better person when there are already dating apps,” said another. When a stranger (Margaret Cho) describes one — which begins with the line “Love is a joke and it’ll break your heart” — as a love song, Cora rejects the label with a flatness that suggests a deeper hurt. .
Throughout, director Hannah Pearl Utt (Before You Know It) captures both Los Angeles and Portland with a sun-kissed glow that seems to envelop Cora in warmth even as she moves from one minor disaster to another. And there are many of them: the one-night-stand with a flat-earther (Thomas Mann) still hung up on his ex, the screaming match against an ex-friend (Heather Morris) over a past romantic infidelity, the argument with a flight attendant (Caitlin Reilly) after she tries to claim a first-class seat she didn’t pay for. The latter presents Cora with an attractive romantic possibility in the form of Tom (Manny Jacinto), the handsome man whose seat she tries to steal.
But Tom, like many of the non-Cora characters in Cora Bora, gets little of the depth that Cora does. One of Tom’s friends tells us that he’s “attracted to broken people,” which explains why he seems so fascinated by a woman who meets his kindness with brusqueness at every turn. However, we don’t understand why he’s the way he is, or what that means for his past relationships, let alone any idea how that might portend any relationship with Cora in the future. The relationships between Cora, Justine and Justine’s new “friend” Riley (Ayden Mayeri) are explained more than the dialogue makes sense, with more than one scene of Cora accidentally overhearing their conversations. talking about her — even though by the end of the 92-minute feature they’ve built enough history together for a clever and genuinely touching twist on the rom-com trope of a grand romantic gesture.
For Cora herself, Cora Bora eventually gets around to revealing the devastating event that forced him to move from Portland to Los Angeles. But it resists the temptation to draw a very clean line between his past pain and his current aimlessness. “All who wander are utterly lost,” Cora sings in the first act, and in this moment it sounds like an expression of anger and despair. The rest of her film, however, makes the case that it’s okay to get lost — that Cora’s journey now, messy or uncertain, is worth embracing no matter where she’s been, or where she’s headed next.