I just got back from the Sundance Film Festival Premier of Cedar Rapids in Seattle. You do not want to miss this movie.
No, I'm not just saying that because I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and like everyone from Iowa, I get giddy any time my hometown is mentioned to a national audience. You can only imagine how I felt during the 2008 floods when Cedar Rapids was drowning before my vary eyes on Panamanian television. Not giddy of course, but a feeling that only small town people can appreciate when suddenly outsiders know you are there. It is a fleeting feeling, because no one ever pays attention to small towns for very long -- especially after a multi-billion national disaster.
Cedar Rapids brings the outsider into Cedar Rapids in a way that wants to keep them looking for at least an hour and half, and for a local boy, it was pure magic. "Look! Look at that," I nudged my friend, "That is the Quaker Oats factory in a movie. Wow!"
Not only was the audience an outsider looking in on Cedar Rapids, but Tim Lippie, played by Ed Helms, was an outsider visiting Cedar Rapids.
Lippie is an insurance salesman from Wisconsin who was chosen to go to the "big city" of Cedar Rapids to represent his company for the ASMI Two Diamond Award Convention. There he discovers that life isn't just pretty birds. Life is flawed, and people are flawed, but you don't have to be demonized for those flaws. It is a great lesson that I've never seen portrayed so artfully and belly laugh comically.
Yes, this movie is funny. It is ridiculously hilarious; but I never felt myself laughing at the characters in a demonizing way, rather with compassion and a nostalgia for the moment right before my innocence was lost.
Director Miguel Arteta was on hand afterwords for questions. During one scene Tim Lippie, Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) crash a lesbian wedding at the Holiday Inn style hotel that Cedar Rapids is set in. I complimented Arteta for not going for the cheap gay joke. The joke instead was that this trio was highly intoxicated at a convention and decided to crash a wedding -- the joke was not that lesbians were getting married. At first, Lippie and Ziegler took pause, but then Joan said, "Yeah, gays can get married in Iowa." The characters quickly accepted and joined the celebration -- uninvited.
Arteta told the Seattle audience, "I wanted to make sure California saw that gays could get married in Iowa. You can't get married in L.A., but you can get married in Cedar Rapids. That's ridiculous," he said. "Iowa does a lot of good things."
Iowa did fail on one front. They didn't give the film makers the proper tax incentives, so they had to film in Michigan instead. Kind of lame, but if you weren't from there, you would never know. They did have location shots of Cedar Rapids, which was enough to give me that gitty feeling only small townies get. "Thank you too for remembering the flood," I told Arteta.
Lippie mentioned the flood during a thought provoking scene in the movie that I don't want to spoil for you here. Arteta replied, "Well it is devastating, two years later and there is still ruin."
There is, and it is sad. But as anyone from Cedar Rapids could tell you, we never turn to outsiders for help, so the city is left with broken promises from politicians in DC, so Cedar Rapidians are fending for themselves. It does help though, when outsiders take a look from afar, even if it is for a thoughtful laugh at the brilliantly created characters by writer Phil Johnston. And who knows, maybe you will find yourself in Cedar Rapids some day. Tim Lippie sure did.
Cedar Rapids opens nationwide on February 11.