Sunday, July 24, 2011

Underrated Movie #124: Cedar Rapids

Title: Cedar Rapids
Year: 2011
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writers: Phil Johnston
Stars: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root, Alia Shawkat

The Story: A chipper-but-nervous insurance salesman from an ultra small town has to make a presentation in the big bad city: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he finds himself both corrupted and liberated by all of the temptations of modern life.

How it Came to be Underrated: When I saw this, I thought it had the potential to break out and become another Hangover-sized hit, only smarter and funnier. Instead, it sank like a stone. I guess it was a little too smart. (Or maybe it was just mis-marketed. Hopefully it’ll hit big on DVD.)

Why It’s Great:

  1. Arteta has been around for a while, and his previous movies, such as The Good Girl, were pretty good, but they fell into the recent trend of overly drab movies where the director seems to dislike all of his own characters. This movie is a big breakthrough. He retains his commitment to deadpan realism, but he’s stopped judging his characters and discovered a buoyancy he’s never had before.
  2. I thought Helms wouldn’t be able to hold a movie, but wow, was I surprised! Not only is he consistently hilarious, but he shows huge emotional depth and range as he travels the epic distance from innocence to experience. One of the hardest things to do is straddle the laugh-at/laugh-with divide. This man can fully commit to the bit and still win us over completely.
  3. But the real star of the movie is the always-reliable Reilly, who takes what could have been a one-note-Jack-Black-profane-friend role and transforms him into a tragic, hilarious fully-dimensional co-protagonist.
  4. In fact, a lot of underrated actors get a chance to shine here: Heche, Root, Smith, Whitlock, even Shawkat (Maeby from “Arrested Development”) as a happy-but-realistic hooker! These actors don’t always get great roles, but Arteta reminds us how much they can do with strong material. I even love the actress who plays Root’s wife, who doesn’t even have any lines! Just the resigned look on her face here as she calmly grabs the wheel while her husband freaks out makes me laugh.
  5. Obviously the initial joke is that Cedar Rapids is not actually a very big city, but that joke quickly gets turned on its head: we’re reminded that Iowa is home to happy gay marriages, unhappy meth addicts and all of the ups and downs of modern life. The heartfelt idea here is that any community, no matter how small, contains a full microcosm of every possible moral and ethical choice you could ever want or fear.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Reilly has gotten only a few chances to star and they’re both underrated gems: Hard Eight and Walk Hard.

How Available Is It?: It just came out on a disappointing bare-bones DVD.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: A World of Beautiful Women -And One Man!


Anonymous said...

I have to agree that this is very underrated, so much so that the few friends I recommended it to had never even heard of it. I prefer it to the hangover because of its touching plot and more likeable, rounded characters. Perhaps not as funny as the hangover though, it still has some very funny lines and scenes. I hope it does get a new lease of life on DVD.

Yat-Yee said...

This was recommended to us by NetFlix based on our viewing history and my husband and I thought it would merely be an escapist funny movie. Now I look forward to it.

Betty (Beth) said...

We just watched this over the weekend and loved it! Not only was the movie completely hilarious, the sincerity of the characters was wonderful. I also hope it has a large DVD life. After we watched it the first time, we rewatched most of the movie again just to hear all of John C. Reilly's lines. One of my favorite films of this year.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, but hate hate HATED this movie. Just a bag of cliches, and horribly unfunny, and tonally off. UGGGHH

Anonymous said...

The commenter above me seems irritating