“Why do people keep asking me that?” Cora (Megan Stalter) asks somewhere around the fifth time in cora bora that someone is angrily demanding to know what’s wrong with her. Her answer, when she can bother to give one, is that nothing is. But it is clear from the first moments of cora bora that is very far from the case.
Her budding music career seems to be going nowhere, despite the sweaty determination with which she drags her broken guitar case from one woefully undercrowded Los Angeles club to another. Her love life is no longer promising: her open, long-distance relationship with Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs) is only dying away, and the relationships she has on the side are more gritty than satisfying. When she begins to suspect that Justine has fallen in love with someone else, she impulsively buys a plane ticket to Portland, where she unleashes even more mayhem.
Stalter delivers a warm, if slightly fragile indie.
Place: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Projector)
Discard: Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs, Manny Hyacinth, Ayden Mayer
Director: Hannah Pearl Utt
Scriptwriter : Rhianon Jones
1 hour 32 minutes
This cora bora taking it all and embracing it anyway, finding both humor and pathos in its millennial malaise, is key to its appeal. But while the film’s strength lies in its affection for its main heroine, its greatest flaw is a relative lack of attention to the characters around her – resulting in a film that, despite all its likable beats, feels more fragile. than it should.
By far the best reason to watch cora bora for Stalter, who in his first feature film performance makes a compelling case for many others. The actress is perhaps best known for her role in hacks like Kayla, whose utter incompetence is matched only 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 offers Stalter the opportunity to expand his range, drawing new notes of sadness or uncertainty in Cora’s comedic swagger. In the moments the film asks her to dig deep, she smashes Cora with such raw, jagged sincerity that it’s hard to look away.
Stalter is also shown to have a lovely, albeit unpolished, singing voice. Cora’s songs (written by Miya Folick, whose own musical soundtrack makes up much of the film, along with screenwriter Rhianon Jones) are taken from her own life, and their lyrics are hilarious in their profanity. “Dreams are stupid and so are you for believing in them,” said one. “Why try to be a better person when dating apps exist,” another explained. When a stranger (Margaret Cho) describes one – which begins with the line “Love is a joke and it will break your heart” – as a love song, Cora dismisses the label with a platitude that hints to a deeper wound.
Throughout, director Hannah Pearl Utt (Before you know it) captures both Los Angeles and Portland with a sunny glow that seems to envelop Cora in warmth even as she transitions from one minor disaster to another. And there are many: the one-night stand with a flatterer (Thomas Mann) still hanging on to his ex, the screaming match with an old friend (Heather Morris) over a past betrayal, the argument with a flight attendant (Caitlin Reilly) after trying to claim a first class seat she didn’t pay for. At least the latter offers Cora a seductive romantic possibility in the form of Tom (Manny Jacinto), the handsome man whose seat she had been trying to steal.
But Tom, like so many non-Cora characters in cora bora, gets little of the depth that Cora does. One of Tom’s friends tells us he’s “attracted to broken people,” which explains why he seems so charmed by a woman who met his kindness with abruptness at every turn. However, we have little understanding of why he became like this, or what it means for his past relationships, let alone an idea of how this might bode well for any future relationship with Cora. The relationship between Cora, Justine and Justine Riley’s new “friend” (Ayden Mayeri) is also more than felt explained in the dialogue, with more than one scene of Cora accidentally eavesdropping on their conversations about her – albeit at 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.
As for Cora herself, cora bora ends up revealing the devastating event that forced her to move from Portland to Los Angeles. But she resists the temptation to draw too sharp a line between her past pain and her current aimlessness. “All who wander are utterly lost,” Cora sings in the first act, and in the moment it sounds like an expression of anger and despair. The rest of her film, however, shows that it’s okay to be lost – that Cora’s journey now, however messy or uncertain, is worth embracing no matter where she’s been before or where she is heading next.