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ADVANCE: Cedar Rapids - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Cedar Rapids
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Probably the greatest thing that Cedar Rapids has going for it is the unusually affectionate way in which it treats its region-specific characters. Other films in recent years play things like local customs and speech mannerisms for cynical laughs. It may not always be intended as condescension but that's often how it comes across: "Look at these funny people you're so much more sophisticated than!"

There's none of that here, and it's markedly refreshing. The people of Iowa depicted in Cedar Rapids are deceptively simple, but it's clear that someone who leads a sheltered life is not necessarily by default unsophisticated.

When it comes to Tim Lippe (that's pronounced "Lippy"), played wonderfully by Ed Helms (The Hangover), the guy has never been anywhere outside of his tiny hometown in Wisconsin. He's an insurance salesman and has worked at the same company his entire professional life, selling insurance exclusively to people he knows in his community. When the star salesman at his company has a "tragic accident" involving half-nakedness and a belt around his neck, Tim is bumped out of his comfort zone and sent to a regional insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And to Tim, this is the Major Big Time.

Lesser filmmakers would turn all sorts of easy targets here into punch lines: small-town living; the idea of Cedar Rapids as a major center of, well, anything; Midwesterners in general. But director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, Youth in Revolt) keeps the focus on Tim's sweet naiveté. When he arrives at the airport and sees his rental car for the first time, he's ridiculously impressed by the small, red, otherwise nondescript car: "Sweet!"

Even when he arrives at the hotel -- a mid-range place that seems to him like the Ritz -- and meets some new "crazy" friends, they really only seem so when compared to himself. There's his first roommate, Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who defies every racial stereotype imaginable; there's his other roommate, Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), the anti-religious wildcard Tim's boss has specifically warned him to stay away from; and there's the feisty Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who shocks Tim with her easy comfort around unruly boys.

But the story here does not take the predictable course, which is of these new friends corrupting Tim and getting him into all his trouble. Really, it's just Tim's naiveté that gets him into trouble, particularly with a local prostitute (Alia Shakwat) he simply finds to be friendly. In the end, it's Tim's new insurance conference friends who offer him the guidance he needs. In fact, there's an undercurrent of wholesomeness to Cedar Rapids, for once it's done right -- it's kept as an undercurrent, is never underhanded, and is never force-fed to the audience. People like Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey could learn a thing or two from this when considering scripts.

That said, the script, by first-time feature writer Phil Johnston, is at times a little uneven, and while it succeeds wonderfully at never sinking to the cheap emotional tricks of so many other movies, it never quite realizes its full potential either. There are moments where you think the movie is about to veer off course, and it only barely saves itself. The sometimes slightly sloppy editing doesn't really help here.

What does save the film, and handily so, is the performances. They are not just solid across the board, but they avoid earnestness in favor of the kind of sincerity rarely seen on film. These few characters who just barely manage to avoid getting in over their heads (there's a party-crashing scene which alone is worth the price of admission) just come across as regular but funny, if completely unworldly, people. You see that every day in real life but almost never in film, which makes Cedar Rapids just a comfortable, cozy comedy.

(L-R) Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, Ed Helms, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. cause trouble in Cedar Rapids.

Overall: B

Opens Friday, February 18 at the Guild 45.
1 comment or Leave a comment
susandennis From: susandennis Date: February 10th, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
You totally nailed the joy of this film. The way it treats its characters. I did not get that until I got home last night after thinking about it for a long time.

And Ed Helms was also on the Early Show and not the guy who's name I gave you last night and now can't remember at all.
1 comment or Leave a comment