Monday, February 28, 2011

The Surprise Movie was... a surprise

The Surprise Movie is always my favourite part of the Dublin Film Festival and this year was no exception. This year I had all sorts of ideas of what it could be. Killing Bono and Hanna were possibilities cos of their Irish links. I thought it could be Sucker Punch (they showed 300 as the Surprise a few years back). Or even Your Highness.

Well, it was none of those! And as soon as the opening started, I knew what it was - I'd read the bloody script! Cedar Rapids was on the 2009 Blacklist - a brilliant spec script by Phil Johnston.

You often find that great scripts like that get made into terrible movie. I'm happy to report that Cedar Rapids transferred to screen pretty much as it was on the page, and it's all the better for not being messed with.

Ed Helms is small-town insurance agent Tim Lippe, who's never left Brown Valley, Wisconsin. He's in a sort-of relationship with his seventh grade teacher and is generally a nice guy who's going nowhere. When his firm's star salesman dies in a sex game gone wrong, innocent Tim is dispatched to give his boss's presentation at an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa instead.

What's brilliant about the concept is that this is the U.S. equivalent of being sent from Tang, Longford, to Mullingar. But to Tim, Cedar Rapids is the most sophisticated metropolis he's ever seen. He shares a room with the super-nerdy Ronald and the crazy drunk Dean Ziegler, and quickly starts to learn more than he ever wanted about the big bad world out there.

When I read the script I couldn't help thinking of John C. Reilly playing Ziegler, and that is indeed who they cast (he's hilarious). Everyone in this film is really well cast, from Anne Heche as Joan, the convention's femme fatale, to Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat as feisty teenage hooker Bree.

Sure, they made some changes. Tim's older girlfriend is plain and homely in the screenplay I read (she's played by Sigourney Weaver in the film). Tim is compromised in a rather complicated manner in the script and in a very simple way in the finished movie - both work well.

I laughed out loud reading the script and the movie delivered in spades. This is a smart comedy with some very stupid laughs, and the Savoy rocked last night. A case of a great spec script being made into a perfectly decent movie - it gives us all hope!

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