Film - Cedar Rapids
Sundance Award winner 2011
Naive and idealistic insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) from Brown Valley, Wisconsin is the most likeable employee in Brown Star Insurance, a company with somewhat erroneous Christian values who pride themselves ON family values cover in the Bible Belt Mid West. Lippe spends his time being a charming insurance man and sleeping with his old school teacher Mrs Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), a unique comfort blanket for an often child like man. Lippe is asked to step up and be a man when the company''s star agent Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon) dies from a rather unfortunate sexual asphyxiation experiment, the boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), dispatching Lippe to the annual ASMI Awards conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to try and win the ?Two Diamonds'' Award. Lemke won it for Brownstar for the last two years and it will help to keep the firm afloat. He will be rooming with the easy going Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and specifically told to avoid fellow insurance agent Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). Ziegler likes to party and there''s bad blood with his firm. But Lippe is easy meat to the cynical and manipulative insurance crowd and soon out on the town, temptress Joan Fox (Anne Heche) making up the drinking foursome as Lippe''s big speech for the Two Diamonds nears. But its Lippe''s mild manner and kindness that begins to rub off on his fellow reps and they are soon falling for his innocent charms. They know exactly why Lemke won those two awards and time for Lippe to learn the realities of the insurance industry to win the hatrick. Frolicking in the pool with naked women and smoking marijuana isn''t helping his chances as AMSI chairmen Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith) is increasingly unimpressed with the young buck from Brownstone Insurance.
I really enjoyed this and a surprisingly warm and funny film. It''s always interesting when more serious television directors take on comic movies, Miguel Arteta previous ventures on to celluloid over his ten year career being the indifferent Youth in Revolt, the worthy indie The Good Girl (Jennifer Anistons only decent movie) and the oddball Chuck & Buck. This is by far his best film as he tightens his craft. They key is often to bring television to film to bring those laughs.
Cedar Rapids is a modest but disarming comedy that will leave a smile on your face when you didn''t expect it. I really thought it would be another one of those dry comedies where the laughs are way too subtle but was wrapped up in this early on like Lippe''s comfort blanket. What makes it work is the real sense of warmth and affection that grows between the characters, lending the film an appealing sweetness and phlegmatic approach that has become all too rare and eroded in American comedy. There are no sassy characters and no real need to adhere to the diversity rules and with feisty writing and good and exaggerated comic performances, especially by John C Reilly doing his best Bill Murray impression, this really works.
It did a dire six million dollars in the US and nothing in the United Kingdom, unable to find a slot in the multiplexes overrun by comic book action movies and dreadful romcoms. But if you like your comedies light but abstract in settings, characters and locations then this will definitely appeal. In fact it''s the sending up of that sales rep motel and conference lifestyle in the Bible Belt which makes this work for a non American audience, to them normality and why it didn''t take, but to us something different in an American comedy and so enhancing it. It really is different to anything else have seen lately and I can highly recommend it. If you thought ?Anchor Man 2'' was too full on then this could well be the antidote.
The Sundance Film Festival was actually set up by Robert Redford and takes it's name from his character Sundance in the Butch Cassidy. The festival has really come to prominence in the last five years and is seen as the debut festival for many of the successes in the idependent film scene. If your film gets into Sundance then you've really got a tremendous opportunity. A couple of years back a small film called The Blair Witch Project gained some attention. Well the rest is history. A small $60,000,000 film called Pi gets bought for $1,000,000. It's a big market with a lot of studios looking for sold films to buy which they think they can make money off. Many of the new wave of directors got recognized at Sundance. The past year was a quiet affair and didn't really have anything that created a buzz in Hollywood but this is the one everybody dreams of going to.