Cora Bora is a beautiful showcase for the comedic and dramatic sensibilities of star Megan Stalter: SXSW Film & TV Festival Review

Whilst there’s no doubt that Megan Stalter is a talented comedienne (“Hi Gay!”, anyone?), the type of social-media-sketch-performer-turned-feature-actress trajectory isn’t always a guaranteed translation for both their respective humour and an audience’s positive reaction.  Thankfully, her starring role in Cora Bora is a more dramatic transition for the actress, displaying a more vulnerable, shaded, even confidence-lacking persona that should speak positively to her hopeful career as a film star presence.

When we first meet her Cora, she’s on stage at a less-than-savoury Los Angeles nightclub, performing a self-written tune titled “Dreams Are Stupid, And So Are You.”  It’s all quite a sad sight to see – both from the audience’s perspective and hers – and it’s a far cry from the thrashing energy that envelops the opening credits where she and her former band tear up one of their performances from a few years prior.  Just why she is currently a soloist is eventually explained (and it’s shockingly heartbreaking, with the scene’s explanatory nature speaking to Stalter’s dramatic capabilities), but up to that point she’s doing her best to keep her dream of being a musician alive; her thinking after a fling of soul-crushing gigs at hipster coffee shops and rundown bars that she has been offered a record deal leaning into that hopeful, delusional energy.

As much as Cora Bora could have focused on her musical aspirations, Hannah Pearl Utt‘s comedy opts to let Cora’s personality unravel through her relationships (or lack thereof), with her travelling from LA to Portland to surprise her girlfriend, Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs), sensing that their open relationship may be a little more closed than Cora is expecting.  The trip is pretty much doomed from the start – it doesn’t help that prior to boarding the plane she hooks up with a flat-Earth believing, post-sex crier (Thomas Mann) – and on the flight itself she hopes she can wing her way through first-class, but she’s caught out by the impossibly handsome Tom (Manny Jacinto), who still offers her a helping hand when her broken guitar case threatens the flight’s “appropriate carry-on item” mentality.

There’s an almost meet-cute quality to Cora and Tom’s interaction, and it’s certainly a relationship that the film circles back to throughout in an amusing manner, but Rhianon Jones‘s script makes sure to keep Cora’s psyche at the film’s forefront, continually pecking at her damage as a character.  Cora will continually convince herself that she’s living her best life, but learning that Justine has a new girlfriend in Riley (Ayden Mayeri), that her own parents have kept up a relationship with her ex as well, and that hometown friends (including Heather Morris) have less-than-savoury opinions of her means she’s constantly battling her own will.

Given that she can be incredibly selfish and frustratingly unrealistic, it would be easy for Cora to be dismissed as a character, but in the hands of Stalter she’s endearing and likeable, and it’s that elevation from Cora’s witty floor to her emotional revelation that allows us to truly embrace her.  It also highlights the actress’s ability to tap into a dramatic affectation that her fabulous television work (namely Hacks) has yet to let her explore.

Revelling in the uncomfortable nature of what it is to start over (again!) and to always back yourself regardless of the situation or people around you, Cora is a far more relatable character than people may initially expect from the opening moments of this small, inclusive comedy.  The orbit of chaos that surrounds her character may be overwhelming, but Stalter is continually in control of the comedic state necessary to push Cora Bora forward in a manner that blends its heightened temperament with her organic nature.


Cora Bora is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas.  For more information head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.