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This week:
Cedar Rapids

Filthy says:
"Sort of like an indie, sort of not."

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 porn.

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.

Cedar Rapids 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 sandwiches.

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 souls.

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 slammed together.

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 mushrooms.

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 and gags.

Cedar Point 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.

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Filthy's Reading
Tom Perotta- Bad Haircut Stories of the 70s

Listening to
Barney Kessel - Some Like It Hot