Cedar Rapids, the new comedy directed by Miguel Arteta and starring Ed Helms, turns out to be an endearing and humorous fish-out-of-water story. I already reviewed the film when I saw its theatrical release back in February, and found it to be a quirky, laugh-inducing gem of friendship and fun. With Helms playing a naive but upright insurance salesman, the film revolves around an insurance conference in “big city” Cedar Rapids that changes his life forever. Those who missed Cedar Rapids during its limited theatrical release now have the chance to see it, as it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray today.
In a funny insurance-salesman-gone-wild scenario, Cedar Rapids stars The Hangover’s Helms as a straight-laced insurance salesman named Tim Lippe. Tim is one of the few insurance salesmen with both heart and integrity. He’s a genuinely good guy, if a little inexperienced. Tim has never been on an airplane, or out of his small town of Brown Valley, or taken drugs, or smoked…he’s the type of guy who blushes at off-colored jokes.
Suddenly, after a lifetime of mediocrity, Tim Lippe has the opportunity to save his insurance company and prove he’s a winner. His boss needs him to go to the big annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids and win the company a prestigious award. Tim’s plans for victory start spiraling out of control as he gets to the convention and finds he has to share a room with obnoxious colleague Dean Ziegler (played with brilliant exuberance by John C. Reilly), and a responsible, softspoken colleague named Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.). Ziegler has a reputation as a “poacher,” and in the insurance biz that’s enough to get you black-balled. He also happens to be loud, offensive, flatulent…and the loyalist friend a guy could have.
Tim finds himself pulled into fun, games, the use of illegal substances, and a fling with fellow insurance saleswoman Joan Fox as the weekend progresses. He also uncovers corruption at the convention, and realizes there’s a lot to learn about the world. Luckily his new friends have his back, no matter what.
What works in this movie’s favor is the witty script, the endearing characters, and the feel-good storyline. Helms’ character Tim is extremely likeable, almost childlike, and the audience can definitely get in his corner. Helms plays the uncompromising Tim pitch-perfect, with a modest “aw-shucks” manner. Reilly as Dean Zeigler is a scene stealer. He comes across bigger than life and the opposite of Tim as far as likeability. Only, despite the fact that he is the most obnoxious man in the world, audiences end up liking him. Anne Heche does a decent job as the wise-cracking colleague that entices Tim into the sack, though she comes across as a little strange.
The fourth friend to round out the Cedar Rapids posse is Ronald Wilkes, played by Whitlock. Whitlock does a great job as the straight-shooting and mild Wilkes. In a meta moment, Wilkes mentions that his favorite TV show is the HBO series The Wire, which Whitlock had a part on. Sigourney Weaver, Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Stephen Root (The Office) also made appearances. Weaver added some dramatic heft to the cast, though I find her brilliantly comedic when she wants to be. As Tim’s older lover and former 7th grade teacher (before you judge, they are “pre-engaged”), her character gives Tim some needed encouragement and even tough love.
Helms often plays the “uptight geek who let loose,” but this role was a little different as his geek is not so much uptight as extremely upstanding. Reilly’s wild Dean character seems crazy, but within the confines of the situation only. Take him out of an insurance convention and his wildness is quiet tame (and would be looked on as another species of geekery). Whitlock also plays an almost too-upright-to-take-seriously character, but that’s the fun of the film. Seeing Whitlock and the rest in their roles adds layers to the comic element, as they play their characters straight-up and without the least hint of irony.
Arteta brings some comedy experience to the table, as he directed Youth in Revolt and episodes of Ugly Betty, Six Feet Under, and The Office. Part of the film’s charm comes from the fact that Arteta allowed the actors to showcase their natural comedic timing/instinct. He allowed the actors plenty of room to excerise these tendencies, as he doesn’t believe in a a lot of rehearsing. Instead he develped the actors’ natural rapport with each other, which gave the interactions on screen a great authentic vibe and enhanced the moments of budding friendship.
No doubt the on-screen chemistry was helped by the fact that the actors were all staying in the same abandoned hotel during shooting. When I interviewed Whitlock about the film and his role, he said he and the others had plenty of off-screen time to hang out because they were shooting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the winter. They weren’t trapped indoors, but the weather certainly kept them there most of the time, and there also weren’t many places to venture off to.
The Blu-Ray visuals were crisp and clear, though the naturalistic lighting and filming style left too many shadowy scenes and a general dimness. The transfer was solid, and the colors on point and saturated. Skin tones looked natural and were so distinct and real it made you feel like you were standing right there next to Tim and his pals. The dimness was a problem, though, as I said. Some of the black tones and darker hues presented overly dark, and dark clothing would sometimes disappear into blackish backgrounds.
The audio was good, but as this wasn’t an action-oriented film the sounds didn’t blow me away. Dialogue came through sharp and clear in HD, and the soundtrack was mostly a subtle backdrop. The quirky soundtrack, filled with dancing piano notes, complimented the feel of the film whether simple and upbeat, or whimsical for the more serious moments.
Cedar Rapids Blu-Ray is stock full of goodies in the form of extras, as well as a digital copy disc included with the Blu-Ray disc. The extras include:
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- Convention Connection
- Mike O’Malley-Urban Clogger
- Tweaking in the USA
- Wedding Belles-Crashing a Lesbian Wedding
- Top Notch Commercial
- Theatrical Trailer
- Fox Movie Presents-Direct Effect Miguel Arteta
- Fox Movie Presents-Writer’s Draft Phil Johnson
- BD-Live Exclusive: Ed Helms’ Mad Chopper Skills
The deleted scenes are ok; as usual they’re not scenes that add anything of particular worth to the film. The gag reel was fun, and as this is a comedy with the likes of Helms and Reilly at the wheel it’s no surprise that behind-the-scenes gags abound. Convention Connection was a kind of making-of featurette with cast/crew interviews. Mike O’Malley played a clogging conventioner, and he gets his own extra showing how he learned to clog and rehearsing. Tweaking is a behind-the-scenes featurette about the backwoods party scene, and Wedding Belles is a similar featurette about the lesbian wedding scene.
The Top Notch commercial is one of the funnier extras. It’s a low-budget, faux commercial from Tim Lippe’s insurance agency. Tim stars in it, and it features a man who is shot with an arrow during a hunting accident. The Fox Movie Presents specials are interviews with director Arteta and script writer Phil Johnson. The BD-Live Exclusive catches a glimpse of Helms relaxing between takes and flying his remote control helicopter.
The film comes to us on a well-presented Blu-Ray with plenty of extras. Cedar Rapids is charming and funny and I’m willing to bet a lot of people missed this one when it hit theatres. Now that it’s on Blu-Ray, it’s your chance to check it out. At the very least give it a rent, you won’t be disappointed.
Cedar Rapids is both charming and funny. The ensemble cast does a great job as does director Miguel Arteta.