15 – 86mins – 2011
Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I was expecting far more from indie comedy Cedar Rapids . From the director of Jennifer Aniston’s The Good Girl and produced by Alexander Sideways Payne, I knew to expect drama, character friction and insecurity along with the laughs, but I found myself more frustrated than enamoured by the highly-strung characters.
The Hangover’s Ed Helms plays sheltered and naïve straight-living insurance salesman Tim Lippe, a man who had a big future ahead of him before he squandered it away in the sleepy little town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. His sad, stalled existence going nowhere, Tim reluctantly accepts a chance at the “big time”: to represent BrownStar Insurance at an annual insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and hopefully bring home the company’s third Two Diamond Award in a row.
The small, clueless fish in a big modern pond template has been used before, but I struggled to engage with frigid Tim. Nice and polite though he may be, everything about him screamed “square” and I failed to accept that unconventional conference veterans like vulgar loudmouth poacher Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) or innuendo-slinger Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) could so instantly befriend such a dull, pitiful man.
Although it’s slightly more believable that hotel hooker Bree (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) – desperate to escape her less-than-favourable occupation as she is – may gravitate towards Tim’s more grounded and sterile nature, the fact that he was so easily persuaded to attend a nefarious house party, smoke weed and get high on crystal meth seemed completely out of character. Would it not have been nobler of Tim to stand by his morals and refuse the drugs rather than find fun and freedom through illegal means? What sort of skewed message is that?!
Maybe I’m looking too deeply into all this, but Tim also far-too readily jumps into bed with lonely-but-married serial-shagger Joan, despite being beyond-obsessed with his “pre-engaged” partner back in Wisconsin (astutely played by no-nonsense Sigourney Weaver). One night he walks off offended because Joan dares to jokingly slap his arse, the next he tells her how milky her skin is while skinny dipping in the hotel pool before going back to her place to make love. Sure, he was drunk, and yes, he regrets it the next morning, but it felt like his character didn’t stay true to himself for the good of plot progression.
By the end credits, Tim comes good by plucking up the confidence to publicly “out” the bribe-taking “honourable” conference chairman Orin Helgesson (Smith), before taking steps to stand on his own two feet for once in the big, wide world, but whereas Sideways and other hero-to-zero comedies like Napoleon Dynamite had me in stitches, Cedar Rapids’ corruption of a vulnerable soul just left me embarrassed to the point of depressed – and surely that wasn’t its intention?
In a CR@B Shell: A pathetic loser has his eyes opened to twenty-first century living by having an affair, bribing his way to success and getting into a fight while off his ass on hard drugs at a house party with a prostitute – and we’re meant to laugh/be charmed?! Sorry, but for all its critical praise, Cedar Rapids completely failed to win be over.