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Cedar Rapids | Review

Pack Your Suitcase: Solid Return for Arteta Makes for Best Bet in Early 2011

A 1970’s period piece about a loner insurance salesman navigating his personal fears and insecurities through a once a year weekend long convention at the titular Cedar Rapids – oh wait—it’s not a period piece, it just takes place in the Midwest. Yes, the Midwest does appear to exist in the 1970s which is perfectly suited for a filmmaker in Miguel Arteta, who works with similar themes and locales in his previous films. Due in part to a well chosen script to helm from a first timer scribe Phil Johnston, and an Ed Helms (in a deserving starring vehicle) who leads an all-around enjoyable cast, the comedy has some ernest laughs and poignant moments requisite of a coming of age story. Since it does not try to do anything groundbreaking, and is by no means a classic, Cedar Rapids does serve as a nice all-around crowd pleaser entry, and might be the best movie released in the paltry month of February.

Based on Johnston’s Black List spec script which was sent to Ed Helms who signed on and then the king of the Midwest set movies Alexander Payne, who then brought in Arteta and a distributor home, Cedar Rapids refers to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a city that is considered pretty major in comparison to protagonist Tim Lippe’s (Ed Helms) small town in Wisconsin. Every year Cedar Rapids hosts a regional insurance convention, and this year Lippe’s boss died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, so Lippe is sent to represent his company Brownstar Insurance. Lippe is an innocent and insecure soul nowhere near prepared for the hijinks to come at the convention.

His “girlfriend” who he leaves behind at home is the older lady Sigourney Weaver, who dominates him but he worships her. Once in Cedar Rapids, he befriends John C. Reilly and Isaiah “Shiiiiiiiit” Whitlock Jr. (The Wire), who start to show him the ropes and lead him down the road to trouble. First stop on that road is Anne Heche, who becomes the vehicle of Helms’ enlightenment.

Reilly creates another classic Reilly character, proving that he’s truly a national treasure. Along with Terri, Reilly continues to remake his mark as a solid comedic, dramedy type of actor. Whitlock Jr. does comedy for the first time in a while and presents a nice counterpoint to Reilly’s ridiculousness, while Heche takes a few elements of her Hung character, also a trapped housewife in middle-America, but a very different one, and proves she’s willing to take on a vast array of roles (see David MacKenzie’s Spread). Helms still needs to play a different character than the one he’s become known for by minor variations, but he’s still doing it well.

The most significant background on this film is the return of Arteta behind the camera after the debacle of his last film Youth in Revolt, which despite receiving tons of critical praise, it was delayed repeatedly, leading up only to an insulting limited release despite all of this time coinciding with the height of its star Michael Cera’s fame. None of it made any sense, as the nuanced, idiosyncratic Youth was potentially a smidgen better then Cedar.

Cedar is a return to safer territory for Arteta. he jokes get raunchy but not too raunchy. It has the proverbial “heart” everyone looks for. The cast is flooded with professionals, and the resumes of the supporting team is even impressive. Hopefully, Cedar will receive some more attention than Youth did, but do not expect this one to become the breakout hit that exacts the promise folks saw in Chuck & Buck, Arteta’s soph picture after Star Maps, his low-budget debut feature that premiered at Sundance to a decent sale.

What is the most likely outcome of this for Arteta is that he does right by Fox Searchlight, who are at the top of their game right now, and Fox Searchlight does right by him for the next project, as they did for Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky.

Cedar Rapids is definitely worth seeing, and considering the competition, this is easily among the best pickings for the second month of the year. Anyone who comes to this as an alternative to The Hangover, I Love You, Man, etc. will be satisfied as it by no means challenges those big budgeters, but serves as a nice break in between the holidays and Spring Break offerings.

Reviewed at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Premieres Section.

86 Mins. January, 24th, 2011

Rating 3 stars

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