by M. Faust
It’s pretty much a genre unto itself: the Sundance comedy, introduced at that winter film festival and quickly thereafter shuffled into theaters. Sundance comedies have an edgy patina but are really soft-hearted with conventional lessons lurking beneath a layer of rude humor and racy (by current standards) behavior. Think of Little Miss Sunshine as the archetype.
Cedar Rapids, fresh from this year’s Sundance festival, stars Ed Helms, who became a bankable name (or so the distributor is gambling) in the Hangover, as Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman from the town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Think the name is obvious? His employer is BrownStar insurance. When the company’s star seller unexpectedly drops dead, Tim is sent to deliver his speech at an industry convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which by Brown Valley standards is somewhere between Sodom and Gomorrah.
We settle back for a comedy about a straight arrow getting bent. Tim is so green that when a provocatively dressed woman in front of his hotel asks if he wants to party, he think she’s inviting him to a party. His roommate is the one guy his boss told him to avoid, a boisterously crude loudmouth played by John C. Reilly. Tim is led through a gamut of new experiences sufficient to gain the movie an R rating, some of them involving Anne Heche, very good as a female equivalent of George Clooney in Up in the Air. He emerges more experienced but with his purity—not to mention his unwavering belief in the value of insurance—strengthened.
Cedar Rapids is a pleasant enough example attempting to have your cake and eat it too. The broad comedy of the opening scenes (emphasized in the film’s advertising) gives way to an unexpectedly heartfelt adult drama. It’s a movie made to appeal to two kinds of viewers, and it does, but leaves both somewhat in want.
The cast of familiar faces includes Sigourney Weaver, Thomas Lennon, Isiah Whitlock, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Rob Corddry, and Alia Shawkat. Hangover fans who feel let down are advised to wait for the end credits, where you’ll see something I’m reasonably sure no Oscar-nominated actor has ever done onscreen before.
Watch the trailer for Cedar Rapids
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