Raised in Ohio until age 6, and eventually returning to the nation’s heartland to attend school in Chicago, Anne Heche knows well the Middle America of “Cedar Rapids.”
That familiarity, she says, informed her desire to play Joan Ostrowski-Fox, the movie’s flirtatious heroine, whose annual retreat to an insurance convention in Iowa represents her hotly anticipated liberation from her husband and children. It is not exactly Vegas, but for Joan, what happens in Cedar Rapids stays there.
“Midwesterners hold themselves to a different standard, and I don’t mean to generalize, but they are extremely grounded in faith,” says Heche, 41. “They draw on that strength and use it to create boundaries for themselves. Joan is supposed to be a wild girl, but a wild Midwesterner is very different from a wild actress from Chicago or a New York City socialite.”
In “Rapids,” director Miguel Arteta pokes fun at that piety, particularly when it is wielded as a political weapon by men with less-than-Christian self-serving agendas.
Yet the movie is hardly an indictment of Midwestern values. If anything, Heche says, it is a love letter with a biting sense of humor.
“It’s a comedy about kind people who wear the pain of their realities on their sleeves,” she says. “What I love about them, and Joan in particular, is their practicality. Joan doesn’t apologize for the choices she makes, and she does what’s right for her. I’m not sure if I’ve always lived my life that way, but I respect it.”
Joan is one of three conventioneer veterans who usher Tim, a small-town innocent played by Ed Helms, into their misbehaving fold. (The others are Dean, a drunken loudmouth John C. Reilly has called one of his “crudest, dumbest” characters, and Ron, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. of “The Wire.”)
Heche describes Helms — whose characters in TV’s “The Office” and the 2009 hit “The Hangover” are not so dissimilar from the well-meaning man-child he plays in “Rapids” — as the perfect choice to play Tim, whose strait-laced, endearingly goofy mannerisms mirror the actor’s own.
He is not, in her words, “a chameleon.”
“I try to be,” she says. “I love diving into the souls of different women, with their unique voices and personal styles. I like dyeing my hair, choosing whether or not to wear heels and shoulder pads, transforming myself into new characters. The older I get, the deeper I get to go, telling the kind of stories grown women aren’t supposed to tell.”
IF YOU GO
- Starring Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kurtwood Smith
- Directed by Miguel Arteta
- Written by Phil Johnston
- Rated R
- Running time 1 hour 26 minutes