Cedar Rapids (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl
My grandma lives in Hanover, Illinois. To get to Hanover from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where I grew up, you drive through a series of sad, small towns, the saddest of which may be Browntown, WI. It appears to be just a collection of split-levels along the highway, but its welcome sign reads “Browntown: A Community on the Rise.” Such cheerful poignancy is like much else in the upper Midwest—sincere and upbeat, with no real reason to be either. It’s a sentiment that suffuses Cedar Rapids, a movie that made me reconsider comedy as a genre uniquely capable, in the right hands, of transcending the attention so often paid to style so that it might say something entirely new and vital about form. Though Charles Olson set the terms of the debate, it’s becoming more apparent that content/form isn’t really what’s at stake in art anymore—not what kind of meat you choose, nor how you cook it, still less how you serve it, but why you might choose meat in the first place. By paying attention to a whole spice rack of conventions and codes that comedies usually forget to add, Cedar Rapids earns four totally unexpected Michelen stars for elegance, plating, presentation, and deliciousness.
I love being from Wisconsin. It’s a great state full of great people and good beer and much cheese. My states-people have been occupying the Capitol for two weeks now, making hilarious signs like “Scott Walker Blows Goats,” and eating donated pizza and drinking coffee provided by local coffee shops. I am glad that director Miguel Artera hasn’t mocked our kindly earnestness, nor have his ensemble cast skewered the nasal vowel sounds of most of our denizens. What they’ve done is make compelling narrative out of elements easily available for fun. By scratching at the shellac of style and unveiling the glorious mahogany of form, CR bequeaths you a complex world in which to believe, full of characters to care about. The situations and set pieces rolling the whole thing forward don’t depend on cheap laughs, but some approximation of your own understanding of choices, and friendship, and work—aka “life.” It’s a drama wrapped completely in the skin of comedy, which means that it’s actually some new kind of thing altogether. John C. Reilly shouts out “muff!” and “queef!” and wears a garbage can lid on his head in a tawdry hotel pool and it’s both funny and poignant—his character’s recourse to the tropes of comedy at once richer and realer because he also promises not to disclose Ed Helms’s moral conundrum, kissing him on the forehead and saying, “I love you.” And you believe that too! All of it is real, and funny as balls. Go see this movie if you are alive.