Director : Miguel Arteta
Screenplay : Phil Johnston
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Ed Helms (Tim Lippe), John C. Reilly (Dean Ziegler), Anne Heche (Joan Ostrowski-Fox), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Ronald Wilkes), Stephen Root (Bill Krogstad), Kurtwood Smith (Orin Helgesson), Alia Shawkat (Bree), Rob Corddry (Gary), Mike O’Malley (Mike Pyle), Sigourney Weaver (Macy Vanderhei), Inga R. Wilson (Gwen Lemke), Mike Birbiglia (Trent), Seth Morris (Uncle Ken)
In Cedar Rapids Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, a button-down dweeb who is even more introverted, innocent, and awkward than his character in The Hangover. Tim has lived his entire life in a tiny town in Wisconsin where he now works as an agent for Brown Star Insurance, happily going about his business under the completely genuine belief that his occupation is about helping people in need. That’s the kind of guy he is--genuine to a fault--and Helms plays him for maximum sympathy (done just a little bit wrong, he would be utterly creepy). You can’t help but enjoy his presence and feel for his various predicaments, even if he is essentially an eight-year-old in an adult’s body.
Because Cedar Rapids is a fish-out-of-water comedy, first-time feature screenwriter Phil Johnston has to throw poor Tim out of his comfort zone, which in this case means sending him to a regional insurance conference in--you guessed it--Cedar Rapids, which to Tim might as well be the metropolis from Fritz Lang’s science fiction classic. Tim is amazed and delighted at everything from his red rental car, to the fact that the cheesy, stuck-the-’70s open-space hotel in which he’s staying smells like chlorine because of the indoor pool. Normally, Tim wouldn’t have been assigned to go to the convention, but his small company’s top agent recently died under, shall we say, extremely questionable circumstances, and his boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), is stuck going to his daughter’s wedding. Thus, it is up to Tim to make the journey, represent his agency at the conference, and come home with the coveted Two-Diamond Award, which is given to not only insurance agency that best represents the American ideals of integrity and Godliness. This award is handed out by the association’s long-time president Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), who holds himself out as an exemplar of all that is righteous and Godly, which means that he will eventually be exposed as a corrupt hypocrite.
Very little that transpires at the convention could be described as Godly, starting with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a randy, hard-drinking motor-mouth from whom Tim has been explicitly told by Bill to stay away. That turns out to be more difficult than expected because Tim is stuck sharing a hotel room with Dean (or “Deansy,” as he likes to be called), as well as Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who is about as decent and sweet at Tim, even though Tim is at first alarmed to see him (“There’s an Afro-American in my room!” he whispers loudly over the phone in full view of Ronald, who is decent enough not to be offended). The group is rounded out by Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who is nearly as randy as Dean and is immediately drawn to Tim’s naivety, although any attraction she feels to him is likely akin to someone wanting to care for a wounded puppy. The foursome bond over drinking and debauchery, activities with which Tim has very little experience. His exploits back home are limited to his carrying on an affair with his former grade-school teacher (Signourney Weaver), which she sees as casual sex and he thinks of as “going steady.”
Director Miguel Arteta has a special gift for balancing the comical and the pathetic, which he displayed early on in working with screenwriter Mike White on Chuck & Buck (2000) and The Good Girl (2002). Cedar Rapids works in a similar tone, although with a slightly raunchier edge that is provided mostly by John C. Reilly, who plays Deansy as an unleashed id. However, Reilly, like the film as a whole, is more than just surface raunch, and he actually finds layers of decency and genuineness beneath Deansy’s party-hard persona, which is more bluster than anything else. He and Helms have excellent on-screen chemistry as unlikely best buds, which turns Cedar Rapids into a surprisingly effective bromance that is hobbled only by its overly conventional ending.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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