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.
I don’t actually find this fake trailer for an Archie movie terribly compelling if only because I think it doesn’t actually take the darkness at the heart of the comics as seriously as it ought to:
I’m planning on reading the current Archie continuities, where in separate, parallel universes, Archie is unhappily married alternately to Betty and Veronica once it’s collected so I can get through the whole thing at once. And maybe at the same time that I do that I’ll actually take the time to track down To Riverdale and Back Again and find a way to watch it on VHS.
This isn’t the first time that someone’s seen the shadow behind the sunshine of the comics. In a way, the Archie characters remind me of what Max Fisher said about his high school in Rushmore: “ I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.” The adults in Riverdale aren’t exceptionally happy: Archie and Betty’s parents seem reasonably middle class but periodically harassed, Mr. Lodge is perpetually cranky, the teachers at the high school are generally single and often vexed by their students. There aren’t a lot of things it looks like it’s worth growing up for.
And why would you want to grow up when you can be a rockstar as a teenager? A genius scientist? Archie characters don’t have to grow up to achieve their dreams. Growing up means you have to decide between Betty and Veronica, that you have to figure out what you’re going to do with your life.