Film Reviews

Cedar Rapids Miguel Arteta

Rating - 7/10

This is one of those cases, now more the rule than the exception, where the trailer advertises a different film than the one the filmmakers made.  We are shown four seemingly drunk adults screaming in a car and we are meant to think of Hangover IV.  Instead, what we get is a somewhat sweet and somewhat crude film that gives us just enough of both to satisfy all but the most sexually repressed viewers.

The story revolves around an earnest insurance agent named Tim Lippe, played with convincing naïveté by Ed Helms, who gets sent to the “big convention” in the “big city”, Cedar Rapids, with the goal of bringing back the “prestigious” 2 Diamond award, coveted among insurance agencies throughout the Midwest.  While my quotes are there to indicate that we are supposed to chuckle at the folks from the sticks thinking any of this is a big deal, the director (Miguel Arteta) wisely never cracks a smile at his characters by keeping this tiny piece of the colossal insurance industry self-contained.  So when Tim hangs his future on winning the award, there’s no one in this microcosm to tell him otherwise and we feel his desperation.  The other way Arteta hits the nail on the head is in his realistic depiction of the small town business convention.  The hotel, an industrial park style Holiday Inn-ish place, is a perfect setting for him to place an assortment of characters who are off beat but not glaringly so.  We are able to forget that we are watching actors we have seen many times before because they are so committed and because we get the sense that they actually love the people they are playing.  When the full ensemble is gathered together, the movie really starts to hum.

Lippe’s posse consists of the two men he’s forced to room with, one reserved and unfailingly polite (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the other equally gregarious and obnoxious (John C. Reilly) who he’s been instructed to avoid.  Rounding out the foursome is the playful and fetching Joan, played by Anne Heche, who hits all the right notes for an attractive woman entering middle age with equal doses of mischievousness and terror.  She manifests most overtly what all of them feel, acknowledged or not, under the surface: the need for something exciting to happen to lives circumscribed by small town social convention.  Anyone who does not recognize one or all of these people has never worked in a cubicle.  Most affecting of all turns out to be, you guessed it, John C. Reilly as the irascible Dean (Deansy) Ziegler.  Reilly, who believe it or not has never been better, brings  so many layers to what could have been a one note portrayal of the loud guy who tells crude jokes.  Deansy is loud and tries so hard because he desperately wants to be liked by his peers, as is revealed in a climactic scene when the whole crew escapes from a potentially dangerous scrape with a young prostitute Lippe has innocently befriended, and as he helps her into their van Ziegler asks if she is a friend of Tim’s, and when she says yes, he proudly responds “I’m his best friend”, which in a breath turns all his previous cockiness on it’s head.

This is a movie where almost everything works in a fairly low-key fashion.  Don’t expect a lot of extended belly laughs or pools of tears, but you should find yourself chuckling a lot and feeling great empathy for these folks, who turn out to be part of a great swath of the country that Hollywood usually gets wrong; the fading American middle class.