There’s a scene in Step Brothers where Rob Riggle tells Will Ferrell that he hates his face, and he just wants to punch it. I’ve always felt that way about Ed Helms. It made the scene where Mike Tyson punches him in The Hangover so much more enjoyable for me. Now, the awkwardness that Helms exudes on screen, was perfect in Cedar Rapids, a criminally underseen comedy. I was hoping this would be like that. While it wasn’t that good, it was surprisingly sweet. And while I spent the first two-thirds of this movie wanting to punch Helms in his face, or hoping that someone in the film would, it all still worked. Credit for that goes to writer/director/producer Nikole Beckwith.
Matt (Helms) is a middle-aged man who wants to have a baby, but he’s not married. He’s also single. So we see him in the opening scenes interviewing Anna (Patti Harrison), in his search for a pregnancy surrogate. It’s in that opening scene that we fall in love with her. She’s cute, sassy, and not the least bit snotty. Even when she has reason to be. She’s doing this to use the money he pays her to finish college.
The movie is split into three trimesters, and in the first one, it’s frustrating to see how unrealistic a character Matt is. The way he shows up at Anna’s work, bringing her tea, healthy foods, and clogs. He also talks about the pregnancy, after she’s told him not to. She tries keeping things a bit more professional. Even though he insists on her doing a food log, and complains when he takes her to dinner and she orders potatoes over a salad. And as annoying as it was when he shows up at her place and catches a lover leaving in the morning — at least that scene was somewhat funny; and when they go in for an ultrasound…seeing the nurse technician (Sufe Bradshaw of Veep) getting frustrated with their bickering…it’s brilliant. Bradshaw has just the right facial expressions, which Matt and Anna perceive as rudeness. Sometimes when a character like that is mean (I’m thinking of other pregnancy movies with a rude character, like Knocked Up and Juno), it’s nice to see them being told off. But this woman never is, because she speaks the truth. They’re wonderful scenes, and it’s those scenes that got me frustrated with what Beckwith gave us (or, didn’t give us). Why not a scene or two with two other brilliant, comedic actors that had supporting roles — Tig Notaro and Fred Melamed. She’s such a brilliant comedic mind, and she didn’t have a single humorous scene as the psychiatrist. She was basically playing the same character she did in Instant Family. Her co-star in In a World…, the brilliant voice-over actor Fred Melamed, had at least a few (mildly) humorous lines as Matt’s father, who seems to not be bothered with the decision of his son the way his ex-wife (Matt’s mother) is (another comedian — Nora Dunn).
Now, it was a pleasant surprise that the film didn’t go for a bunch of cheap laughs, or try to go for this indie film quirkiness that has grown tiresome. Instead, it is surprisingly touching and you adore watching it all unfold. I was just seeing these comedians I dig, and expecting them to make me laugh.
By the time the second trimester starts, we enjoy the bonding these two have. When they binge on all the seasons of Friends, I kept thinking about how we just saw immigrants doing the same thing in Limbo. What a bizarre coincidence.
When the couple talks about Woody Allen movies, it was brilliant dialogue. It comes up because of Matt thinking there’s nothing wrong with having female friends in their 20s, or if they were a couple (any guesses on if that happens?)
There are a few laughs from the angry, gay co-worker (comedian Julio Torres) at the coffee shop where Anna works. It was an interesting dynamic, as were the reasons he resents Matt (despite loving the app he created).
I was watching this in the Reading Town Square theatre in Clairemont, and it was half-full, and the entire crowd was enjoying themselves. That is, until the ending. Two people were furious with how it ended, and started yelling at the screen. My wife and I thought the ending was just perfect.
This is a pleasant film, and I don’t think anyone who goes to see it will be disappointed that they went.
3 stars out of 5.