Review: CEDAR RAPIDS - Warm, Funny & At Times Disarmingly Honest

rating: 4

Films, like people, can surprise you. I was quite unprepared for Cedar Rapids. On paper, a comedy about an insurance clerk from an autumnal backwater, attending his first industry convention, kept the mouth dry but tish, this is a good natured and often very funny coming of age story, unusual for featuring a grown man as the metamorphosing lead. It€™s a peculiar comedy, quirky in its take on morality and virtue. This might be because Miguel Arteta has decided he€™ll both hoard and gobble the proverbial cake. Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, a man whose brain has failed to pubesce beyond early adolescence. Much is made of his naivety as well his stunted emotional and sexual development. His life is one long hangover, pun intended, from a simple childhood; the first job he ever had remains the only job he€™s ever had; his lay is the schoolteacher he coveted in the classroom. The gap between his idealised world and the more complicated and corrupt adult landscape, is where you find the jokes. There€™s sweetness about his inability to read his affair as nothing more than a casual fuck with a newly liberated middle aged woman, or his refusal to accept the truth about the company€™s star salesman and his penchant for auto-erotica. Half the movie is spent laughing at this simplistic worldview, but later, it€™s the pastoral values, the earnestness and the apple pie work ethic with its privileging of the customer and a belief in honesty and bolstering the disadvantaged, that wins out. I suppose it would be easy enough to deride Arteta for stocking his film full of proxies for the audience€™s cynicism, making his leading man a figure of fun, only to undercut it all with a good natured conclusion, but Cedar Rapids is wise to such pitfalls. It succeeds by winning over its audience, giving Helms€™s boy in a mansuit a flawed group of new friends €“ the hard drinking, obnoxious and adulterous Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), frustrated family woman Joan (Anne Heche) and baritone voiced Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr), and placing each in thrall to the new boy€™s simple optimism. Tim Lippe€™s universe may be a narrow one, from a moral point of view, but it has a liberating effect on a bunch that are inherently decent but have lost their way to complications from the adult world. His lack of cynicism, which is always endearing thanks to Helm€™s wise decision not to embellish the role with Jim Carrey-esque hysterics, filters through to the audience, and adds a dimension to the coming of age narrative the film appropriates, allowing both the pupil and his teachers to grow by film€™s end. Helms' new friends are a charming group, the kind you€™d like to befriend, thanks to some warm ensemble playing and some astute comic timing. John C. Reilly€™s Zeigler could, in the wrong hands, have been an oafish buffoon, but Reilly imbues the character with vulnerability and energy, and is undeniably likable as a consequence. Anne Heche mothers Helms beautifully; the scenes in which she talks about the shackles of what should be an ideal domestic existence, a typically honest touch in a movie that doesn€™t feel obliged to sugar coat its character€™s motives. Isiah Whitlock is the Father figure of the group and fans of The Wire will appreciate the character€™s references to the series in which Whitlock himself appeared. Warm, funny and at times disarmingly honest, Cedar Rapids is a typical Hollywood morality tale told with untypical verve. Tinsletown is never happier than when bringing a family together, family being the universal currency in which all of us are thought to trade, whether by identification or aspiration. Here a different sort of family is created, but one drawn from atomised quarters. Perhaps that makes Cedar Rapids a sort of modern fairytale. If it is, it€™s certainly a very comforting and life-affirming one. Cedar Rapids is released in the U.K. this Friday.
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Ed, or Extreme Discernment, is experimental Film and Television critiquing software developed by and for What Culture. Invested with over 3 million digitised artefacts, spanning 80 years and including volumes of criticism from luminaries such as Paul Ross and TV’s Alex Zane, Ed generates the best reviews money can buy. Ed’s editor plug in also allows him to oversee The Ooh Tray, a magnificent film and literature review. Follow Ed’s digi-pronouncements on Twitter: @edwhitfield