The movie opens as the main character, Samuel (Jonathan Groff), rides a bus across the country. Through the back story, we understand that Samuel is leaving Connecticut after having graduated from Yale with a graduate degree in Japanese. Next to him sits an apparently crazed stranger spewing out her lunacy on him as if they were intimates. We are quickly introduced to a cadre of other “characters” before Samuel hits his destination – Oregon – and a few others after he lands there.
Samuel’s real name is David, but for some reason, on his little odyssey, he prefers to go by the name “Samuel .” The director alludes to some issues of abandonment and other difficulties in Samuel/David’s relationship with his mother and also with a friend, Jennifer. It is unclear the depth of his relationship with Jennifer, and exactly why he cares that she abandoned him to go off with some guy in a two-seater sports car. Are they merely friends? Is there more to their relationship? Perhaps even Samuel/David is confused.
So what does a Yale graduate with a degree in Japanese do when seeking employment? He applies to pick apples, naturally. Certainly, this makes Samuel a fish out of water. When the orchard owner, Hobbs(Dean Stockwell) asks Samuel/David why he wants to pick apples, he replies, “Change of pace; get my hands dirty.” Later, as Hobbs is directing Samuel on his job duties and the need to pick only the best and most perfect fruit, Samuel remarks, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” I sense a theme here.
Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) shows up briefly with her new sports-car beau. She is less than enthused at Samuel’s choice of employment. He reminds her that she encouraged this by reading “The Grapes of Wrath” and suggesting that the two of them work in the fields. I sense, by her response to his career choice, that she was merely speaking philosophically and not realistically about working with these types of people.
Although clearly highly educated, and wearing his Yale sweater while he picks apples, Samuel eats and sleeps with the Mexican migrant workers. He loosely befriends a younger man named Pedro. Pedro exits quickly, and just as quickly Samuel finds himself no longer living in the migrant barracks, but now living in a small silver trailer on the back property. Instead of picking apples, Samuel is promoted to working in the factory sorting the apples with mostly female co-workers (which he will later agree are “fat dikes”). The Mexican migrant workers now reject him, and no longer allow him eat with them, while the female co-workers in the factory essentially do the same.
Samuel meets a nefarious fork lift operator named Curly (Corey Stoll) in the factory. They form an instant bond, perhaps because they are two of the few males working on the floor level of the factory. Through Curly’s recommendation, Samuel is again instantly promoted, this time to sorting the fancy apples upstairs. However, in the minds of some people, every favor comes with a price.
Through a series of events, Samuel finds himself calling Jon (Denis O’Hare), a born again Christian, former alcoholic/dry drunk, and Desert Storm vet who lost one leg to a landmine in the war. Samuel briefly connected with Jon in the beginning of the movie, as Jon was prostelytizing on the streets. Jon handed Samuel a pamphlet with the acronym C.O.G. (child of God) on the front, and his name and phone number on the back. This was fortuitous, as Samuel later needs someone’s help, sees the pamphlet and calls Jon.
Jon lives with some well meaning fellow church goers who let him live with them out of the goodness of their hearts and their seeming desire to live the Christian life. They allow Jon (and now Samuel) to live and work in the basement, where Jon creates homemade clocks in the shape of Oregon out of rough jade – he anticipates selling them to the locals at an art fair for $100 each. He hires Samuel to help him create the clocks.
If you assume that when one pronounces themselves a Christian they are attempting to follow in the footsteps of loving, caring and kind individuals who came before them, you may be a bit disappointed in Jon’s behavior. The phrase “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” comes very quickly back to mind when seeing Jon in action.
I enjoyed this movie. It was a bit slow paced for its 80+ minutes. Certainly, it was sad in parts and even morose in others. But it was realistic in the sense that Samuel was just as flawed a character as the people he encounters – he makes some very snarky comments and other outbursts that do not make him a tragic hero, saint or angel in my book.
The movie also begs many questions, such as: was Samuel/David running from something, and this explains the need to change his name and also to take a very mundane, cash-only job? Was he hiding from himself and his past choices? Or in the alternative, was he making a life affirming change that included shedding his past name and identity?
In the beginning of the movie, Samuel announces that he is an atheist. By the end of the movie, and at the urging of Jon and other more well-meaning parishioners, Samuel engages in the born-again- rite- of- passage of denouncing his past in front of the whole church congregation and affirming his love of Jesus and women. Certainly, the issue of sexuality is raised throughout the movie, and we are never really told explicitly that Samuel is gay. When Jon accuses Samuel of being gay (by calling him a “faggot” and also “sick”), Samuel replies “I’m as sick as they come.”
In the end, Samuel/David finds himself walking down a road, alone, in need of choosing yet another path for himself. To me, the look on his face is more contemplative than upset or frustrated, and perhaps that speaks volumes about where the director wanted the movie to end.
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