Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cedar Rapids (2011) – Review

Cedar Rapids is very funny – mixing a lot of crude humor with small town heartfelt morality, something not often seen in comedies anymore. Director Miguel Arteta crafts a story of a naïve man who faces the corruption of the big city, but what makes this particular telling of the story interesting is how there is certainly a moral lesson and code to the story but the characters mostly sort of rest in the grey area. In the film the initial villains are not so bad and the good guys are really the devious fellows (not that this has not been down before, it is just that it works very well here). Yet, neither good nor bad completely defines any of them, which in term makes them feel real and more relatable to the viewer. Arteta also allows for the performances of John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr. to play big, which works very well considering star Ed Helms is at his best when reacting to those around him. Helm’s character Tim Lippe is a bit of a man-child (somewhat resembling that of many Will Ferrell roles), but unlike most representations of the role he is not a man-child because he is immature and never grew up rather he is merely naïve and without experience outside of his small town. This nuance makes him much more relatable to the audience which in turn engages them in the narrative past just watching it for laughs, and really elevates the comedy and drama of the film. The audience does care about Lippe and his journey’s outcome and are not there merely to laugh at/with him. The film plays out a bit like The Hangover (though on a much smaller scale), and focuses on a few of the same motifs like friendship, but this is not just a film about a crazy weekend with friends. Arteta creates an interesting juxtaposition between the crudeness of the jokes and language used and the overall message – one of being a good person and doing right is above business success and personal success. The film in a sense plays out like a parable, pitting greed and personal gains against sacrifice, friendship and honor, and a coming-of-age story. It is different, and ultimately something that sets this film apart from the barrage of crude comedies. Despite its outside perception of being an exaggerated wild weekend comedy, the film actually feels real and down to earth, which directly stems from its relatable characters and willingness not to pigeonhole characters and situations into one thing. Cedar Rapids is a very good mix of heart and crude humor (something also done well by Judd Apatow).

Technical and acting achievements: Miguel Arteta is a comedy director that also has a strong sense of drama and deeper characters, making his films feel more honest (which is not necessarily something needed in comedy, making it an odd genre, but certainly can only make a film better). I think this is his best film to date. Producer Alexander Payne also has a strong track record of comedies with deeper characters (Sideways being a good example). Aesthetically, the film is fairly straightforward allowing for the performances and comedy to be the focus. That being said, the technical work on the film did not really standout, but fit the mood of the film and style very well. Composer Christophe Beck’s (who does practically ever comedy, well not really, but he does a lot) score is playful and takes full advantage of the film’s local. Visually, the film never felt confined or restricted even though it mostly takes place in a hotel thanks to the work of cinematographer Chuy Chavez and production designer Doug J. Meerdink. The performances, however, are really what make this film great. Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat and Stephen Root are all funny in their supporting roles. However, the stars and soul of the film is the foursome of Helms, Heche, Whitlock Jr., and Reilly. They are all fantastic – each with their moments of sheer hilarity and dramatic emotion (I especially liked the work of Heche and Reilly).

Cedar Rapids is a great comedy, not just because it is funny (which it really is) but because its characters are so charismatic and draw the audience in. 8/10

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