by director Miguel Arteta
Why should a Puerto Rican make a movie about insurance agents in the Midwest? That was the big question when I first heard about a script called Cedar Rapids. In my films, I have always looked for an emotional challenge. Something needs to be happening in the character’s heart that I do not have a grip on myself. I do not want to be the expert of my own film. Not in terms of what the characters are facing. If I was, the journey would not feel fresh and authentic. The audience would feel left out. And what I want to do is invite them to come on a poignant adventure with me, even if it’s a comedy. Especially if it’s a comedy.
Lo and behold, the plight of Tim Lippe, a completely naïve, sheltered insurance man from a tiny town in Wisconsin, completely reminded me of what I’m struggling with in my own life. He is terrified to leave his hometown to go to the big city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But go he must and along the way, he must learn who to trust and to leave what’s good about himself intact. Surprisingly the script captured what it feels like, coming from another culture, to this big country. Tim is in total culture shock and he must wise up fast. He is kind but he realizes how to remain kind without being a chump.
And this business of being kind but not a chump is what I love the most about this story. In some ways Cedar Rapids is a throwback to the comedies of Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) and Jack Lemmon (The Fortune Cookie). I’m proud to have made a film about a wholesome character (with a little sex, of course) in times like these. The film captures the surprise and delight of what it’s like to make lifelong friends along the way, the magic and the fun of those first few days when you first connect with people that are going to be in your life forever. Because even if they seem totally different from who you are, completely alien to you, your journey has made you wiser and you can see inside of them and recognize that they share your values. Tim feels good to recognize that behind the foul mouth insurance man Dean Zeigler is a heart of gold. Behind the confusing heart of insurance woman Joan Ostrawski-Fox, who fools around once a year at this convention, is a sensible friend. And behind the timid exterior of a nerdy, stuffy man, Ronald Wilkes is a valiant friend who will risk all for you. And trying to have that kind of optimism in our world today is a challenge I welcome.