‘Cora Bora’ Stars Meg Stalter as a Messy Grieving Bisexual

Within life’s saddest moments, humor can still be found. Maybe it’s a dark irony, maybe it’s a laugh shared out of necessity, maybe it’s an absurdity that stings in the present but will cause a chuckle later. On-screen and in reality, comedy and drama are often intertwined. And the best dramedies understand there is humor in the tragic, and tragedy in the light.

Hannah Pearl Utt’s Cora Bora stumbles its way toward this realization. The humor of its first half feels forced and muddled, only for the film to settle into itself, embracing drama and, with that embrace, earning even more laughs.

Meg Stalter stars as Cora, a struggling musician who lives in LA and is in an open relationship with her longtime girlfriend who is still at their old home in Portland. After losing management and having a particularly fraught one-night stand, Cora decides to fly to Portland to surprise her girlfriend — only to discover her girlfriend has started to seriously date someone new.

Whether in her own comedy or on Hacks, Meg Stalter has proven herself to be one of the funniest comics working today. It’s her performance here that almost allows the movie to work when it’s at its broadest and most confused. But it’s frustrating that the script reaches for conflict with her girlfriend Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs) and Justine’s girlfriend Riley (Ayden Mayeri) instead of finding drama and comedy in more grounded complications. While it’s certainly possible these long distance queers were terrible at communication, the weight of Justine fully living with someone new is absent. There are continued heightenings of circumstance without heightenings of consequence. And the absence of either realism or committed farce hollows out the humor.

It’s not that big choices can’t work within dramedy. In fact, one of the film’s best sequences is also one of its silliest. Cora ends up hanging out with a polycule — that includes Margaret Cho! — and this crew of anti-label queers feel out of a Portlandia sketch. It works because even the broad jokes are born out of Cora’s character and her contrast with these new people. When she mentions that she hasn’t performed music with anyone in years, there’s a real poignancy to these overeager queerdos joining in on her song.

This sequence marks a shift that’s followed by the inevitable reveal of what’s been going on in Cora’s life, why she’s no longer in a band, and why she’s so messed up. While technically a spoiler, it’s telegraphed throughout that she’s grieving. When Stalter gets the chance to actually talk about this explicitly, she reveals her dramatic talents equal her comedy.

Manny Jacinto plays Tom, a man who keeps running into Cora throughout her misadventures. Once again, it’s not realism that works, but consistent character development. Tom’s presence has the mechanics of a romcom and yet his sweetness and interest in Cora is justified due to Jacinto’s performance and just enough context.

Other than its cast, the music by Miya Folick is the film’s greatest strength. Even when Cora is floundering, we believe she was once in a successful band, because the songwriting is good. When we hear the songs with a bit more polish — or even just the accompaniment of a polycule — we feel the depth of Cora’s loss. She didn’t just lose her friends; she lost her art.

I love an indie about a messy bisexual. Throw in good songs and a lovely third act, and I can forgive some imperfections. Like its protagonist, Cora Bora is at first off-putting, but in the end it proves lovable.

Cora Bora is now playing in select theatres.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

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