‘Cora Bora’: Bisexual singer’s tumultuous journey takes flight in uneven comedy

“Cora Bora," directed by Hannah Pearl Utt, opens June 14 at the Quad Cinema.
“Cora Bora,” directed by Hannah Pearl Utt, opens June 14 at the Quad Cinema.
Brainstorm Media

Bisexual singer Cora (Megan Stalter), the title character of the cringe comedy, “Cora Bora,” is having a rough time. Her dreams of making it in the L.A. music industry are fading — especially when her manager (Chrissie Fit) quits both Cora and the business. Moreover, her “open” relationship with her girlfriend Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs), who lives in Portland, is on the skids. Cora generously and erroneously says they are in “a rebuilding year.”

Viewers may also have a rough time with “Cora Bora” as this uneven comedy lurches from bad to worse as Cora suffers a series of indignities that are meant to be funny, but often fall flat. 

The film starts off promisingly, as Cora performs her songs with lyrics like, “Dreams are stupid and so are you for believing in them,” to near-empty open mic nights and daytime coffee shops. When she attends a party and tries to hook up with a comely pair of lesbians, Cora ends up going home with a guy (Thomas Mann) instead. Their tryst has moments of deadpan humor as Cora realizes he thinks the earth is flat — but she still sleeps with him anyway.

After Cora suspects Justine is seeing someone else, she hops on a plane back to Portland to save her long-distance relationship. But she needs to save herself, first. In first class, Cora meets Tom (Manny Jacinto), when she pretends to be in his seat. It is typical of the film’s humor — and Cora’s abrasive character — that she takes umbrage with the flight attendant requests to see her ticket to clear up the matter. Later, the film delivers a chuckle when Tom asks Cora what kind of music she plays, and Cora hesitates before responding, “The good kind.” 

Stalter’s performance is all posturing, and the film’s humor comes from how unbelievable her claims are about her concerts, or her relationship. Cora is almost always trying to be something or someone she is not. She knows it, and others see through her charades, but the lies and exaggerations tickle when they don’t prickle.

Back in Portland, Cora hopes to surprise Justine, but instead ends up being surprised by Riley (Ayden Mayeri), Justine’s girlfriend. As a kind of revenge, Cora tries to sabotage Justine and Riley’s relationship, but she fails frequently and often. “Cora Bora” becomes a frustration comedy, and it is especially frustrating during an episode where Cora loses her (and Justine and Riley’s) pet dog, Taco, and tries poorly to correct the situation. 

Watching Cora flail is not necessarily funny. Another encounter that feels superfluous has Cora hanging out with some fellow musicians. The relaxed vibe turns into a polyamorous party, which Cora escapes with her clothes on but her dignity in tatters. It is yet another indication that Cora is not good at reading a situation, but acts impulsively nonetheless. The film repeats this setup and awkward moment scenario time and again, but it yields diminishing returns. 

Despite Stalter’s efforts, it is hard to maintain sympathy for a character who is so self-absorbed and self-destructive. And as Tom keeps reappearing in Cora’s life — at a nightclub, or in a restaurant — he tries to save her from herself. But it never scans why he has interest in her or feels pity for her. The film is much stronger when Justine and Cora have a heart-to-heart and Cora acknowledges that she is afraid no one will “get her” like Justine does. 

Cora’s bisexuality is, thankfully, treated without any concerns — including from a young child she meets on the plane to Portland. This is laudable and one of the film’s clever comic touches features Justine’s mom adoring Cora while Cora’s parents are greatly enamored with Riley. The parents are all approving of their daughter’s queerness, which makes one character’s negative coming out experience poignant in comparison.

“Cora Bora” eventually reveals why Cora is the way she is, and the backstory explains Cora’s deep denial. The film turns a corner at this point because it humanizes this character who has been broken like the guitar case she carries around with her. 

Stalter works hard to carry the film, and fans of the actress will appreciate her efforts, though it is more likely that viewers will laugh at Cora rather than with her. In support, Manny Jacinto is not given much to do except show up and act kindly, but Jojo T, Gibbs and Ayden Mayeri make the most of their scenes as grounded women who prove to be good foils for Cora’s messiness.

 “Cora Bora” is fitfully amusing and often exasperating. Just as Cora tests others’ patience and good will, so too, does this film. 

“Cora Bora” | Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt | Opening June 14 at the Quad Cinema | Distributed by Brainstorm Media