Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cedar Rapids

Has it really been four months since I last contributed? That's amazing. As one loyal reader (my dad) has noticed I completely blew my original goal to contribute at least once a month. So, in the interest of not disappointing my parents any more than I already have, I give you: Whatever is on my mind right now.

Cedar Rapids.

I have been thinking about Cedar Rapids all day today. Not the city in Iowa, which I lived 20 miles away from for 15+ years, but the film starring Ed Helms. I attended an advance screening last night (the film will be released in theatres on Friday, February 11th.) I was very excited to see this movie because of the Iowa connection, and the previews looked promising. At the same time, I was a little uneasy about it because I did not want to watch 90 minutes of Midwesterners being portrayed as rubes. It's a stereotype that I'm not a fan of. Although it irritates me more when people think Iowa is famous for potatoes. It's Idaho potatoes, people. Don't be a rube.

In case you ponderin', I did enjoy the film - in large part because of an outstanding performance by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as an insurance agent with a passion for antiquing and boundless enthusiasm for the HBO program The Wire. His performance stole the show, and that's not easy to do next to John C. Reilly. If you generally enjoy Helms and Reilly as actors, you will enjoy this film. It helps if you have seen an episode or two of The Wire, as well. If you are largely unimpressed with the work of the two aforementioned actors, you could probably skip this one.

While the main character (Tim Lippe) was a complete rube who had never left his small town in Ohio, I was not offended by the characterizations of Midwesterners. The character is so sheltered that he is blown away by the hotel pool in Cedar Rapids and suddenly feels like he's in Barbados. His enthusiasm was cut short when he ran into the "large afro-american man" standing in the doorway to his room. Maybe I have a different perspective since I am one who felt stifled after living 30+ years in the Midwest, but my life has been filled with Tim Lippe moments. The town where I grew up (village, actually) had a population of 750 people, was 97.5% Caucasian and covers a total area of .5 square miles, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. You should have seen the excitement when I was a kid and we found out a Casey's General Store was coming to town. You would have thought the Mall of America was coming. We excitedly monitored the construction progress every day and waited with bated breath for the luxury of purchasing a greasy slice of pizza and a dozen donuts. It was a big deal. Then, when I turned 18 and moved out, I moved to a city in Iowa with a population of 30,000. That was huge compared to where I grew up! There were stores and chain restaurants and stoplights!! After two years there I moved on to Iowa city for school, which doubled my residential population at 60,000. Iowa City had so much more to offer and their stoplights had two turning lanes! I was very nervous about having to turn left with another car in the lane next to me.

Since 2008, I have lived in Washington, D.C. and I still have Tim Lippe moments. Sometimes when I'm on Metro for my daily commute to work, I think about what it would be like to meet my former self and tell her she would grow up to leave the Midwest and live in a major metropolitan area. The thought of navigating public transportation on a daily basis would have blown my young mind. It would have been unfathomable. Caseys General Store was a very exciting event for me. If only I knew then that just a few decades later I'd get off the subway and pass the U.S. Senate building every day on my walk to work. It would have been mindblowing.

To be honest, life in Washington is still pretty mindblowing for me. It still takes my breath away to see so many areas with such rich history. It makes me giddy to know that I can walk out of my apartment, hop on the Red Line and be at an NHL game within 20 minutes. I used to drive an hour in each direction with my season tickets to see the Quad City Mallards.

It's hard to take offense to the character in the film when I can identify with him so much. I remember the first time I was on a plane by myself. I remember the first time I met an "afro-american" and I am not proud to say that my interaction went no more smoothly than the dialogue of the characters in the film. Everyone has to step outside of their comfort zone every now and then and having grown up in such a sheltered environment, I find a lot of things "super awesome" that most people take for granted every day. Maybe it's just the rube in me, but I thought that the film was NTS - Not Too Shabby.

Here are a few interesting facts to note about the film:
Of the six actors receiving top billing (according to imdb), only Helms is not from the Midwest. He did attend Oberlin college in Ohio (that doesn't count) and while Stephen Root was born in Florida, he has lived in Sioux City, IA; Muncie, IN; and Kansas City, MO. (That totally counts.)

The official website for the film has links to the city website for Cedar Rapids, the Wikipedia page for CR, and city-data information about sightseeing in CR. I don't know if this is done to give proper credit to Cedar Rapids, or to encourage people to see for themselves how unremarkable it is. I will give Fox Searchlight the benefit of the doubt and say it's merely to give a point of reference for where the film is based.

Speaking of where the film is based, none of it was filmed in Cedar Rapids. I haven't read up on the details as to why, but the film is said to have been filmed in Ann Arbor, MI. Honestly, there is very little connection to Cedar Rapids other than the name. There are a few point of view shots where you can see CR, but other than that, it could have taken place anywhere.


Scotty S said...

But we are know as the 38th drunkest town in America...and as you know I try hard to live up to that status...stay frosty young one!

Kathleen said...

Good to know that Scotty's doing his part to keep Cedar Rapids on the map. :-)

policomic said...

Good to see another post here, especially such a well-written one about a subject near and dear to my heart (not the movie, though I am eager to see it, but Midwesterness).

It's too bad they didn't do any filming in the real CR (imagine the thrill of seeing an establishing shot of the Irish Democrat--and imagine how badly the city could use the money).