People are gonna
expect Cedar Rapids to be one of those raunchy R-rated
comedies full of sex and gross-out jokes like The Hangover,
Superbad and Candy Bottom's XXX Stuffin' It With Lard
3. The commercials I've seen make it look that way, with
a drunk John C. Reilly acting like R2D2, a lady taking off her
top in a pool and Ed Helms telling a flight attendant that he
got wasted and befriended a prostitute. Shit like that happens
in the Candy's classic, too, but with more sobbing and way more
gynecological-grade nudity. In fact, there's no nudity in Cedar
Rapids. Booooooooooooooo. It's not raunchier or more raucous
than a bachelorette party at an Olive Garden, either. This movie
has loftier (and smaller) aspirations with a streak of New-Yorker-short-story
melancholy running through it.
My first clue that
this wasn't a raunchy comedy should have been that it was only
playing at the Landmark Mayan, Denver's premiere theater for
pomposity and pretension. It's a beautiful 80-year-old palace
that only plays arthouse flicks. The manager often comes out
before the movie and gives a little spiel about how smart and
discerning we are for coming to see moody East Germans come
to terms with their sexuality rather than stay home and download
On Friday night,
the Mayan's pudgy, sad night manager told us all that not only
talking on--but just looking at--our cellphones during the movie
would ruin the fidelity of the experience for the cineastes.
Also we should buy Stella Artois, the official beer for snooty
assholes who buy beer at the movie theater (Hint: wear a big
jacket and you can bring in a huge rubber bladder full of Oly).
He failed to comment on how the theater's shitty, dilapidated
seats and crapass projection system could also hurt the experience.
The dumbfucks in the crowd applauded him. Why? The guy didn't
sing or anything. He just did a live commercial. I guess that's
just how the intellectual elite roll.
isn't pretentious. Like those East German movies, it's a little
confused, just not about sexuality. The movie's score and underlying
sadness are indie film stock and trade. So are its low-budget
and limited locales. But it also has a bombastic performance
by John C. Reilly as a guy who lights a fart on fire. It's the
kind of film that does great at Sundance because it has the
skin of a small and artsy flick, but the bones are all Hollywood.
Those smug Park City fucks love that superficial shit. I'm not
saying Cedar Rapids is bad. It's actually pretty good.
Ed Helms plays Tim
Lippe, a Wisconsin insurance agent sent down to Iowa for a conference.
He's a small-town guy who lost his parents when he was young
and fell in love with his schoolteacher (Sigourney Weaver).
In adulthood, he finally gets to screw her in his modest home
in a small town. His dreams are tiny, maybe one day he wants
kids. He's never flown in a plane and probably likes baloney
The conference in
Cedar Rapids brings a lot of firsts for Helms: first time through
security, first time on a plane, first time in a rental car
(he's stoked to get a Chevy Cavalier--I would be too if the
alternative were a Chevy Aveo), first time in a hotel with an
indoor pool. Cedar Rapids is the big time. It's one of those
movies about how dull and easily impressed we flyover-state
hillbillies are. Director Miguel Arteta has made a few of these
flicks, where he mistakes slow-talking Midwesterners with gentle
Helms is only sent
to the conference because his more competent coworker was found
dead from autoerotic asphyxiation. That's a real problem for
his employer who needs to win an award dependent on the business's
image as Christian. Helms's boss warns him to steer clear of
John C. Reilly's character, a wildman drunk who can destroy
the reputation of anything within his gravitational pull. Of
course, the first thing that happens is Helms and Reilly are
Helms goes from dupe
who thinks the entire insurance industry is as honest as he
is to an eyes-wide-open warrior for truth. He discovers agents
can be bribed, that prostitutes have hearts of gold, but also
smoke meth and hang out with dirtbags, that you can't judge
a person by a first impression and that married insurance agents
are lonely people who go to Cedar Rapids to escape their boredom.
The story has not
one but two wild nights where the timid agents are taken out
of their comfort zones. The first is when Helms gets drunk for
the first time and screws the married agent (Anne Heche). The
second is when he improbably winds up at a drug den with a prostitute
and must be rescued by his friends. While the second generates
more of the raunchy comedy, it's also the least likely part
of the story. I can accept that Helms's character is more open
while out of his element, but the prostitute storyline posits
him as such a rube that it partly destroys the character. He's
no longer just innocent and wide-eyed; now he's a fucking moron
without a spine. He does things that even a moron knows are
stupid, and that are motivated more by the story's need for
action than character growth. From that party to the movie's
end, Cedar Point wusses out. It goes from being small
and gentle to loud and easy. Sort of like when you give a nun
Reilly and Helms
do a terrific job. Reilly is loud, crass and very funny. However,
his character is more melancholy than the typical comic relief.
He's got genuine pain and his character is far more decent than
his mouth suggests. I can empathize because I too am far sweeter
and deeper than everyone thinks I am. If you don't believe me
I'll cut your fucking balls off. Helms is in his element playing
the ingenue. He excels at doofuses who are easily impressed,
and the role suits him. He's got great timing and he's likable.
Not that Id want to have a beer with his character, but I'd
buy insurance from him if I ever figured out a way to kill someone
for the money without it getting traced back to me.
The script, by Phil
Johnston, has some good laughs, mostly from Reilly's character.
They are mostly derived from the characters until the disappointing
last thirty minutes. Director Arteta is all right. I've not
liked his stuff before because he wants to hard to elevate mediocre
material into something poignant. I don't know why he casts
a downer fog over his movies. I guess it's the arthouse fiction
that if everyone and everything looks drab it must be artsier.
He could have opened up Cedar Rapids with more color
and less Midwestern stereotyping to let in some air. The characters
would have been just as sweet and the jokes just as funny. What
he does best, though, is not get in the way of the best lines
isn't the funniest comedy, and it isn't the deepest salesman-finding-his-soul
drama, but it's better than watching gay East Germans cry any
day. Three Fingers.
to tell Filthy Something?