Apr 4, 2011

Cedar Rapids

This bitingly funny but sweet satire, written by Phil Johnston and skillfully directed by Miguel Arteta, bears the imprimatur of its producers, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the best film satirists in America today. Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an innocent insurance salesman from Brown Valley, Wisconsin, who is sent to represent his company at a convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and thereby loses his innocence, not only of alcohol, drugs and philandering sex, but of the corruption which underlies business in America. A lot of the glee to be derived from this movie is how impressed Tim is with stuff that most people in this country find soul-crushing, like flying on a plane and sleeping in generic chain hotels with beige and brown color schemes, pools inside their lobbies and depressing lounge bars with names like "Horizons". To him, going to Cedar Rapids is like going to Paris and staying at the Ritz. His is an adult coming of age story in which a trio of other insurance agents, gamely played by Anne Heche, Isaiah Whitlock Jr. and the inimitable John C. Reilly, seem to be derailing his plans but end up being the best thing that ever happened to him.
This is a really funny movie that combines the profane and sophomoric humor of current bromedies with the sophistication of satire. For Cedar Rapids is out to expose the ridiculous hipocrisy that is rampant among conservatives in America. They may pray 15 times a day but they're out to screw their fellow man without compunction.
Cedar Rapids has a great cast, which includes Sigourney Weaver as Lippe's love interest (they are pre-engaged), the wonderful Alia Shawkat as a sweet prostitute and Kurtwood Smith as a classic American holier-than-thou schemer. The movie skewers the Midwestern penchant for bowdlerizing profanity, their utter lack of contact with Black people, the American male eternally immature version of sex, and the hipocrisies of the outwardly pious. The female characters, for a change, are strong and interesting, and there is a dark and discomforting vein pulsing through the movie as Tim is put through the wringer of reality.
At this point, I think that John C. Reilly should be officially designated as a national treasure. His performance here as Dean Ziegler, an enthusiastically vulgar guy that cannot abide holier than thou pieties is stuff that should be considered for the Oscars. He is magnificent. I don't much tolerate the barrage of gratuitously stupid profanity that passes for humor in many American comedies these days. It usually bores me. But in Reilly's expert hands, it almost rises to the level of poetry and the reason is that Ziegler is a larger than life, unabashed vulgarian of great conviction, but he is a decent guy. He may not display a lot of common sense in his excesses, but he does in everything else. Reilly's performance is not only hysterically funny but touchingly sweet.  
I loved this movie.

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