Thursday, January 5, 2012
CEDAR RAPIDS (2011)
I normally avoid the “man-child” comedy, the subgenre in which a 30- or 40-something fellow or group of fellows makes irresponsible decisions and/or behaves immaturely, and the wives and/or girlfriends (and the audience) are expected to smile, shake their collective heads, and find the man-child’s emotionally stunted behavior endearing and/or life affirming before the end credits roll. See just about any Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler movie, if you’re still unclear. Meet Tim Lippe (the wonderful Ed Helms), a 30-something fellow who lives alone in the fictional burg of Brown Valley, who carries on with his former high school teacher (Sigourney Weaver), works for a boutique insurance firm owned by Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), and has never set foot outside his small town. After the firm’s top salesman dies under unsavory circumstances Krogstad sends guileless Lippe to a Cedar Rapids convention, hoping to attain the prestigious Two Diamonds award given by sanctimonious host Oren Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith). Quickly seduced by air travel and hotel amenities, Lippe finds himself drawn to more seasoned conventioneers, the gregarious Dean Ziegler (a terrific John C. Reilly) and the flirtatious Joan (an unexpected Anne Heche). In the course of the film Lippe learns, and at times provides, valuable lessons about loyalty, friendship and integrity. Phil Johnston’s screenplay contains all the elements of a man-child comedy, and it’s easy to see where, in less compassionate hands, the film could have devolved into generic nonsense. But somewhere from page to screen director Miguel Arteta and the cast wisely chose to take the characters and situations seriously, rather than as cause for comforting derision. Reilly is both buffoonish and sympathetic, while Heche finds the desperation beneath her character’s firecracker exterior. Helms, in turn, gives the child-like Lippe a dignity both surprising and moving. This more honest approach makes for a less gut-busting comedy, but what laughs there are feel earned. While Arteta’s film never completely transcends the dreaded man-child subgenre, it proves that all is not yet lost.