Saturday, March 31, 2012

3 short paragraphs: Cedar Rapids

2011, Miguel Arteta -- Netflix

The main character of Cedar Rapids, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), is a bit of a drip, a stunted man-child who has never ventured outside of his small farming town.  Unlike most comedies of the Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell variety where the stunted man-child is the butt of the joke, here we're ask to sympathize with Lippe as we come to know his somewhat tragic past and understand how it is that he came to fear the world outside his small town and find himself still wide eyed and naive.  Despite his emotional underdevelopment, Lippe isn't incompetent or a buffoon, as were so used to seeing in this sub-genre of comedy, as he holds down a job as an insurance agent, and exceeds quite well at it.  When his co-worker unexpectedly dies in a freak sexual accident, Lippe is forced by his boss (and surrogate father figure) to go to a regional awards conference and lobby for his agency's third straight award.

Leaving behind his lover/ex-high school teacher/surrogate mother (played by a game Sigourney Weaver), Lippe hesitantly ventures to the conference where he's quickly adopted by a motley trio, including the resident loudmouth whom his boss warned him away from (John C. Reilly) and an adventurous, spirited woman (Anne Heche) who Tim is destined to sleep with the moment he sets eyes on her.  What naturally occurs is Tim Lippe's coming-of-age in rapid fashion.  The more people he encounters, the more his peurile worldview is chipped away at, until eventually it just crumbles.  Over the course of a weekend Lippe's parental figures disown him, his faith in honesty, fair play, and equality are rocked, and he is forced, for the first time, to address his own sense of self.

Cedar Rapids is, in many respects, a smaller-scale Up In The Air, where the main character has a set way of life and people from outside break through and change it.  The romance between Helms and Heche mirrors that of Clooney and Farmiga, but it's actually handled with far greater maturity here, despite Lippe's immature reaction after sobering up.  This isn't a raucous comedy, but a character-driven one, though there are still some good laughs to be had.  It's genuine and engaging with likeable characters, even the abrasive Reilly, who quickly establishes himself as unfiltered but trustworthy.  There are no cheats here, and characters aren't sacrificed for the sake of plot or comedy, which may not make it as appealing as other man-child comedies, but it does distinguish itself in that regard.