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Cora Bora Film Review: Megan Stalter Shines

A girl with a leopard top hugs a small dog smiling in the film Cora Bora

In Cora Bora,Megan Stalter is endlessly watchable as a struggling musician and messy millennial, but the film isn’t quite a hit.

Director: Hannah Pearl Utt
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 92′
US Release: June 14, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in theaters

The image of Cora (Megan Stalter, Hacks) in her leopard print faux fur coat and her bright yellow checked trousers lugging around her guitar case is such a perfect representation of her character in Cora Bora. She is a loud, messy, often quite selfish millennial with a lot of baggage that leaves people repeatedly (and frustratedly) questioning what’s wrong with her. 

Cora is introduced as a struggling musician playing sweetly sung yet quite jaded songs to almost empty venues. We soon discover she has recently moved to Los Angeles from Portland, leaving behind her past and her girlfriend, Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs, Fresh), insisting that they open up their relationship due to the distance. When Cora senses that her relationship might be on the rocks, she panics and takes a trip back to Portland to win her back. However, when she gets there she finds Justine’s new partner, Riley (Ayden Mayeri, I Love That For You) has moved in. Simultaneously, in returning to her hometown, she is faced with coming to terms with the devastating event that caused her to leave

Best known for her role in Hacks and her hilarious alt comedy online videos, Megan Stalter takes on her first lead role in a feature with confidence. She embodies the character of Cora excellently; she is messy, funny and brings chaos with her wherever she goes, yet there are also real glimpses of sadness to her that Stalter brings through with expert nuance and subtlety.

Cora’s songs, penned by indie singer-songwriter Miya Folick, who also scored Cora Bora, and screenwriter Rhianon Jones, just further add to Cora’s characterisation. Lyrics like “dreams are stupid and so are you for believing them” indicate a hurt hidden behind the humour, particularly when partnered with Stalter’s sweet, yet unpolished singing voice. The soundtrack, paired with director Hannah Pearl Utt’s (Before You Know It) depictions of the warm glow of both LA and Portland, adds a real charm to the film. However, with Cora hurtling from one disaster to another, often involving cameos from some well known stars like Thomas Mann and Chelsea Peretti, sometimes the film seems a bit directionless. Though these cameos add some funny moments to the script, the introduction of someone new every few scenes makes for quite a jumpy and fragmented plotline. 

Two characters smile in the film Cora Bora
Cora Bora (Brainstorm Media)

At times, Cora Bora feels more like a sitcom episode than a fully realised story. The competitive dynamic between Cora and Riley does work and creates some rather funny moments, with Riley becoming infuriated by Cora’s chaotic nature. More time instead could have been spent on Cora and Justine’s bond. Justine is depicted as a kind, people pleasing and genuinely good person, but her character does not venture much deeper than that. Justine is the opposite of Cora, and the lack of time spent evidencing Cora and Justine’s feelings for one another makes it difficult to emotionally connect with their relationship troubles and even more difficult to root for the relationship. It seems like the failing relationship is just used as a plot device used to justify her return to Portland rather than an emotive thread. 

The same occurs with Tom (Manny Jacinto, The Good Place), who Cora meets when trying to take his seat on a plane. He is relentlessly kind to her despite her persistent rudeness towards him, and it’s unclear why he puts up with it and even ends up as a possible love interest for Cora. The only justification we get about why Tom would continue to engage with Cora is when one of Tom’s friends says that Tom is “drawn to broken people”, but we are never told why. 

Apart from the film’s namesake, every character required more development, so that their actions, and reactions, would have made more sense. It is a shame that the supporting characters didn’t have just a bit more personality for Cora to bounce off of, as I’m sure that would have really enhanced Stalter’s comedy and also created much more emotional depth, which I was so eager for by the final third. 

Despite its shortcomings, Cora Bora is a heartfelt, funny and chaotic journey of self-discovery, scored with sweetly sung yet simultaneously sad lyricism. Mainly, though, the film illustrates that Megan Stalter is one to watch, and it is clear that there are great things ahead of her. 

Cora Bora will be released in US theaters on June 14, 2024.

Cora Bora: Trailer (Brainstorm Media)
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