On the Loose

As part of my project to see more movies, despite a cost-benefit analysis that kind of militates against it, I caught a screening of Cedar Rapids over the weekend. The movie is a minor delight, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s in every sense of the word a small movie. The insurance businesses at stake are small, the main character is from a small town and has small experience to match, the big city is played by decidedly modest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and much of the action takes place at in a hotel so small that the hotel is doubling up on guests. But because its aims are so reasonable, it’s the movie equivalent of putting a whiffle ball on a tee and taking a fat whack at it.

The plot of the movie, about a naive insurance salesman gone—for him, at least—wild isn’t really the point. The sense of balance and the writing really are. This is a movie about a Midwestern rube that eventually embraces his values while praising his adaptability. Sigourney Weaver plays a middle school teacher on the prowl who is actually compassionate and deftly sketched, rather than a joke a cougar (to be fair, I think Weaver’s too regal to ever be reduced to a joke). Anne Heche does a nice job as a softened version of Vera Farmiga’s character in Up in the Air, a movie that has a much finer artistic gloss than this, but lacks the animating spirt of John C. Reilly wearing a trash can lid in a swimming pool and brandishing a drink.

One thing the friend I saw the movie with and I remarked on afterwards is how much we liked Ed Helms’ use of “awesome” as his character’s verbal tic. We all have characteristic speech patterns, words we overuse, but I think it’s rare to see that incorporated well into movie dialogue, which usually functions as a whole, rather than as the clashing rhythms and characteristics of individuals.