In which director Miguel Arteta attempts to fuse Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson (and fails).
Apparently one of the most hotly tipped scripts of recent years, the story runs thus: Tim Lippe (Ed 'Hangover' Helms) is a simple man with simple tastes and ambitions; living in a small mid-western town he works as a low-level agent in a local insurance firm, his only distraction being weekly liaisons with his old schoolteacher (Sigourney Weaver, delicious). Then, as is the way with such folk in the movies, he is thrust into challenging circumstances: in this case he is asked by his boss to secure a prestigious industry award by giving a whizz-bang presentation at an insurance conference (hosted in the titular Iowa city). Falling in with a more worldy crowd, he has a range of experiences involving sex, drugs, booze and karaoke, all of which together transform the Panglossian Lippe into a tougher, yet still guileless, character.
Sadly, the film doesn't really work - and the main issue is, oddly, the story itself. It just doesn't quite scan - Lippe is just too gauche to be credible, and premise is too obviously wilfully-quirky and knowing. As I mentioned earlier, the film tries to hit the broad comedy notes of The 40 Year Old Virgin while keeping the artsy integrity and celebration-of-the-naive of Rushmore/Royal Tenenbaums/Etc. Few films can walk this kind of line and genuinely work (American Beauty springs to mind).
It's not a complete dead-loss. The acting is fine throughout, with standout performances from Stephen Root as Lippe's boss and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire's Senator Clay Davis). Anne Heche is quite delightful too, Alia Shawkat is underused as tart-with-a-heart Bree and it's always a pleasure to see Kurtwood Smith (Clarence 'bitches leave' Boddicker off of Robocop). It's also fundamentally a good-natured film and gets a few genuine laughs, mostly coming from the ever-reliable John C. Reilly and Isiah Whitlock's running in-joke about Omar Little. Still, another one to stick on the pile marked 'noble failure'.