Friday, March 11, 2011

Cedar Rapids (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Cedar Rapids

Does the news have you down? Be glad you are not in Brown Valley where everything is, in fact, brown, In "Cedar Rapids" the new comedy by Miguel Arteta, ("Chuck & Buck" ) you'll see for yourself. The stores and offices are brown along with the clothes that its residents wear. Not since "Twin Peaks" has there been a more dry or quirky sense of place.

One such resident is Tim Lippe, played by Ed Helms of "The Office". Tim is a well meaning, clueless, scared insurance worker who is afraid of stepping on his own shadow. He goes through the motions and doesn't make waves. He expects little and seems astounded by his own respiration. He doesn't get out. Period. Tim's only girlfriend is his former matronly teacher (Sigourney Weaver). She doesn't want the relationship to move anywhere.

Sigourney pushes the envelope a bit here, as she grinds against the passive Tim in the nude. There are no special digital effects to refract her character into alien abstraction---this is real life. Tim gets news: he must represent his company at the annual meeting. He is told to stay away from Deansy Ziegler (John C. Reilly ) a "poacher".

What follows is an "Out of Towners" style comedy that has a quirky, independent heart. The core of this film is the chemistry between Helms and Reilly who show a poignant vulnerability and keep this film from being a mumblecore hybrid of "Dinner for Schmucks" and "The Hangover". Tim Lippe is not over the top as is Barry Speck. The character of Lippe is lightly drawn. There is no Jesus- mouse in this guy's pocket. When Lippe goes up to the stage on talent show night, we feel it. Ed Helms' anxiety is palpable with some of the spirit of Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock. Ziegler, also, is earthy and familiar. We see him embodied in the neighbor that stays too long at a party. The guy who is not quite a jerk but a manic joker, yet he is affable and capable of quiet listening.

The movie succeeds because the humanity is mixed in with the hijinx. The "little guy" Tim is not so little. He fights for the right thing. 

Like Steve Martin before him, Helms portrays the subtle rhythms of a person with social anxiety and the spontaneous movements of an out of touch apprehensive person. These people are not dweebs, or idiots,or Schmucks. But, as Ed Helms and John C. Reilly show, they are parts of us.

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