3 May 2011


Cedar Rapids is set in 2009, which perhaps indicates that the film has been bounced around in release schedules, or simply held back for a little while, until its recent release. Its limited release in the UK comes accompanied in multiplexes by an unwholesome trailer reel of the summer's upcoming bawdy comedies, most of which look a tiny bit shit. On the other hand, this one ain't so bad.

As the story goes, Tim Lippe is an altruistic insurance salesman who gets booted up to the big time when his company's golden boy passes away in an unfortunate auto-erotic accident. Anyhoo, he's dispatched by his boss to the industry's annual conference and back-slapping jamboree in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He's taken under the wings of three veterans as he's pressured to win the industry gold standard, the prestigious Two Diamonds award.

Not to get stuck on that trailer reel, but it contained a preview for The Hangover Part II, in which leading man Ed Helms reprises his role and (probably) the entire script from the first film in a different location. If Cedar Rapids did take time to get to the screen, its progress was indubitably eased by his success in The Hangover, and so the film has a tenuous link with Zach Galifianakis' recent dramedy, It's Kind of a Funny Story, strengthened by the fact that I found this film just as incidental as the other.

The most interesting thing about the film is its oppositional portrayal of insurance salesmen. You saw Saw VI, right? They're evil, evil people, and in movies, they're painted that way in such broad strokes that it's become a very easy shorthand. In Cedar Rapids, Ed Helms' Tim is far more gentle and altruistic- if you didn't laugh when I said it the first time, then good for you. It could do more to rehabilitate an easy character stereotype, except its strokes in the opposite direction are just as broad and simplistic as the more dominant representation.

For instance, Tim is pretty much mothered by Macy, the woman who taught him in 7th grade, played by Sigourney Weaver. She's also his fuck buddy, which isn't so much an Oedipal thing as the prolonged realisation of his adolescent fantasising. Later, his small-town outlook is reminiscent of James Stewart in... well, a lot of James Stewart movies. He doesn't drink or swear until he gets to the conference. He's such a child-like character- not like Russell Brand's man-child version of Arthur but genuinely regressive- that it ultimately does nothing to swing the pendulum back the other way.

Tim is transparently a character, and although you hopefully like him, it's impossible to connect his humanity with an alternative to the sharky portrayals of insurance men elsewhere in this very film. John C. Reilly has his fingers in many pies here, working on this indie-cred comedy while playing a similar character as in his collaborations with Will Ferrell. As the boorish Dean Ziegler, he's effectively there to deliver the funnies while Helms is the straight man. As with many of Reilly's performances, he's deeper than he appears, but the plot threads of the character's divorce and alcoholism are broached and then forgotten.

Locally, Cedar Rapids is showing just once an evening, until the programme changes on Friday. The screening I attended was reasonably full, and the laughs came haltingly, usually when Reilly's character was saying or doing something the trailers had promised. Certainly, he gets the lion's share of the stuff you see in the trailers- the one-liners and the sex jokes that really aren't what this one is about. At its core, the film is a comedy that wears its indie-cred and its lofty ardour for its characters with pride. But while it's sweet natured and enjoyable, the jokes are a little sparse. All the same, it's better than Something Borrowed looks. Yeesh.

Cedar Rapids is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Cedar Rapids, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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