CINEMA: Prairie Home Companions

KURT LODER: There’s London, there’s Paris, and there’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa—for straight-arrow Tim Lippe, not necessarily in that order. Tim (Ed Helms, of The Hangover) is a small-town insurance agent who looks upon his calling as heroic—he’s there when his clients need him most, and he really cares. He’s never been anywhere outside of peaceful Brown Valley, Wisconsin, where he still lives, in the same house he grew up in. True, he’s occasionally sleeping with his seventh-grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver), to whom he likes to think of himself as “pre-engaged,” but he’s otherwise a museum-quality naïf—never flown on a plane, never stayed in a hotel. Then his company’s top agent is found dead in the most disturbing circumstances (auto-erotic asphyxiation), and Tim’s boss taps him to attend an annual insurance convention in faraway Cedar Rapids, and to bring back the coveted Two Diamonds award. One thing, though—whatever he does, Tim is to give a wide berth to a guy named Dean Ziegler. MORE

DAVID EDELSTEIN: The comedy Cedar Rapids centers on a cretinously ingenuous Midwest insurance agent, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, of The Hangover), who is morally and sexually upended during a convention in the wild-and-crazy Iowa metropolis that gives the movie its title. Directed by Miguel Arteta from a script by Phil Johnston, the film is largely a series of juvenile jabs at midwestern piety, which is always a cover for corruption and sexual degeneracy, and it might have seemed fresh around 1978, when Animal House came out. To be as charmed as I was, you have to enjoy scenes like the one in which insurance agent John C. Reilly plops himself down at the hero’s table in the middle of the ostentatiously holy convention leader’s morning prayer and declares, “I am so hung-over… big-time beer shits… You got a pube on your cheek.” It helps that Reilly is the opposite of a slob-comic. With his hangdog melancholy, he makes even the nonstop cunnilingus allusions poignant—the product of emotional longing. MORE

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