Have you ever been in a relationship where you knew, deep down in your heart, someone else was creeping in to take your place? In the new indie dramedy Cora Bora, leading lady Meg Stalter embodies that insidious and often-times hilarious paranoia — but the film lays bare the notion that if you’re on the outs, there may be something on your end that is keeping you from being the partner you want to be, no matter how hard you try. It’s a sobering concept, but one brought to life in a ridiculously charming whirlwind that perfectly captures the chaos of life and romance.
The dramedy follows Stalter’s Cora, a directionless musician who turns to navigating the west coast music scene alone after the breakup of her beloved band. She’s in Los Angeles now chasing her dream, but she left her girlfriend of five years in Portland, the city where they met and fell in love through music. When Cora returns to Portland unannounced in an effort to salvage what distance has done to their bond, she comes to find that her relationship is further gone than she expected — and makes it a point to figure out how to salvage it, along with her stunted life.
First thing first: Stalter is the standout of this film, and it becomes apparent very early on that she is more than capable of carrying a movie on her back. This film feels like the first time we really get to experience her in that position, and it bodes well for her career going forward. She is undoubtedly leading lady material, and she feels so at home in that space. Watching her, it’s clear she has a major place in comedy carved out for herself in the coming years, and she can thank her ability to stay true to herself in all her roles for that.
While Stalter is definitely the acting focal point of the film, she is well matched by Ayden Mayeri’s spirited performance as Cora’s girlfriend’s new girlfriend, Riley. Their rivalry is fun to watch unfold, and they have a chemistry that is palpable despite their desperation to fight it. This tentative and somewhat contentious relationship is a highlight of the film, and it adds to the overarching sense of chaos within Cora’s life. The connection morphs into something unexpected for both of them, and Mayeri and Stalter move through those changes with a stark discomfort that slowly bleeds into understanding and empathy. It’s even more fun to watch than Cora’s trainwreck attempts at salvaging her relationship with girlfriend Justine (Jonica T. Gibbs), which are awkwardly farcical on their own.
Cora Bora uses Cora’s former band’s music as a throughline motif that grounds her as she continues to careen out of control. The music is very catchy and totally sets the scene in the film’s opening, and continues to breathe life into the story as it is referenced. It’s this kind of specificity that helps shape a narrative into something wholly unique in a genre full of the same. Because of the inclusion of the set of original songs, the film has a built-in identity that reflects its charm and messiness as well as its innate humanity.
Hannah Pearl Utt’s meandering directing style is perfect for this piece. It really captures the aimless procrastinatory dysfunction of Cora’s mindset throughout the film and punctuates her slow breakdown with an equally dysfunctional lens over her arc. Similarly, Rhianon Jones’ script feels natural in Stalter’s specifically brash and bold comedic voice while still retaining its own uniqueness. There’s something to be said for how seamlessly Jones and Stalter mesh as artists in the film’s text, and it’s crucial for this connection to be strong in order for the movie to work. In this way, the pair become the beating heart of the piece, working in tandem to shape Cora’s emotional pathway from the inside out. It’s a beautiful collaboration between writer and actor that proves that this kind of range is best cultivated as a unit.
Utt, Jones, and Stalter are something of a comedic trifecta here, one that is able to mine the nuances of PTSD, defensive comedy, and aimlessness alongside the romcom conventions of their story’s framework. Cora Bora is a star vehicle for Stalter to prove her dramatic skills are just as sharp as her comedic ones. It is also a touching, well-crafted collaboration between writer and director that gifts their lead performer the space to blossom into a perfectly flawed example of a healing human. Seek this film out if you connect with journeys through the many nonlinear steps of grief, stories of women with ambition picking themselves back up again, and comedies that shine a light on life’s cruel irony. Or, if all else fails, seek this film out for Stalter’s performance alone. It’s damn near impossible to regret if you do.