Most are even farther away from Cedar Rapids than Ann Arbor, Mich., where the movie was filmed in November 2009, after the collapse of the Iowa film tax credit program.
For those of us who call Cedar Rapids home, however, the movie that bears our city’s name strikes us in our heartland. It’s hard not to watch it while saying a little prayer: “Please don’t make us look like hicks.”
The good news? We don’t. Our neighbors in Wisconsin do, but that’s OK.
The marvelously understated Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe (pronounced “lippy”) who sells insurance for the Brown Star company in Brown Valley, Wis. When the company’s shining star dies in a most unsavory fashion, Lippe is tapped to board an airplane for the first time, rent a car for the first time, stay in a hotel for the first time and head to a regional insurance convention in “the big city” of Cedar Rapids. Once there, he does lots of other things for the first time, like hard liquor shots, drugs, a one-night stand and a rock-climbing wall.
It’s hard to imagine any businessman in his mid-30s being so socially awkward, but that’s what Helms, 37, plays best (“The Office,” “The Hangover”), so we find ourselves rooting for his successes and shuddering during his slippery slopes.
His boss orders him to stay away from the foul-mouthed loudmouth Dean “Deanzie” Ziegler (the always hilarious John C. Reilly), so of course they end up sharing a room. Their other roomie is “an Afro-American man,” Ronald Wilkes, played with sweet charm by Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“The Wire”). In the hotel lobby they all hook up with convention veteran hottie, the aptly named Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) and the adventures begin.
The foursome exudes comic chemistry that buoys this smallish film by indie director Miguel Arteta. He provides the guiding force but uses a light enough touch to let the humor unfold naturally from these naturally funny actors and characters.
The climbing wall scene is a laugh riot, but the violent drug scene is almost the film’s undoing. It’s hard to watch, because we like Lippe so much and don’t want him walking down that dead-end dirt road.
It will be interesting to see how Cedar Rapidians react to this film, which does have seriously funny scenes and enough local references to keep us satisfied: Lippe making a downtown map to take to Cedar Rapids; a heartfelt speech about the Floods of 2008; downtown scenic shots; and Helms and Heche trying to find Westdale Mall during a scavenger hunt, debating how “north is north and south is south.” Anyone who has ever tried to find a true north, south, east or west in Cedar Rapids will especially love that line.
Just be sure to check your Cedar Rapids baggage at the door, then get ready to laugh, smile, groan and gasp.
— Diana Nollen