CEDAR RAPIDS maybe doesn’t wash any fresh earth with its plot swirl, but it merrily crests the Snide Levee of a too often polluted comedy lake. Instead of lazily soaking ostensibly boring middle-class, middle America squares (i.e. every white person languishing between Central Park West and Beverly Hills), this bubbles a froth that pops like the writer, director and cast actually know (or at least knew) those out there in Unhipland. While they poke fun at them, they share that fun with them: it’s not condescending to “little people”. The characters may be broadly played, but they’re also recognizable and likable, flaws and all.*
Naive small town insurance man ‘Tim Lippe’ (from ‘Brown Valley, Wisconsin) gets to represent his in-doodoo agency at the ‘big city’ convention held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clueless in the best movie doof tradition (in the old days he’d be played by Gary Cooper or Joel McCrea), he learns about the wild side from new-met fellow conventioneers, veterans of the milieu and experienced partiers (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.)
Apart from laughs, this 2011 sleeper (ignored, making only $6,861,000) at last gives a full-on lead role to second banana Ed Helms as the overwhelmed but game hero, showing him to be as able as contemporary Everyman/smart-aleck Steve Carell at holding down a feature film. Ed can act.
Reilly is a gas as usual, Heche and Whitlock work it happily, as director Miguel Arteta (Youth In Revolt, The Good Girl ) and screenwriter Phil Johnson smoothly mix sweet with raunch, not overdosing either ingredient. Only jarring note comes from the characters played by Alia Shawkat and Rob Corddry: they’re too close to mean to be enjoyable.
87 minutes of tickle, with Stephen Root (great), Sigourney Weaver (good sport), Kurtwood Smith and Mike O’Malley. One inadvertent but endearingly fitting production egg-on-face came when a tax credit failure in Iowa resulted in the film being shot in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The joke’s on Des Moines.
*Okay, so I’m touchy…but after a zillion crapass TV sitcoms about how horny and stupid we all are, and scads of movies revealing the supposed dark soul of suburbia, I appreciate film-makers that can see some of the humanity and decency behind the lawn ornaments and barbecues. Pinioned between the sullen envy of the poor and the smug lootfest of the rich, the strangling middle-class can’t catch a break. Power to the Doughboy pool!