Cedar Rapids, the new comedy directed by Miguel Arteta, turns out to be a touching and humorous fish-out-of-water story. With a limited theatrical release, this film is an under appreciated gem of wit, friendship and laugh-out-loud antics.
In a funny insurance-salesman-gone-wild scenario, Cedar Rapids stars The Hangover’s Ed Helms as a straight-laced insurance salesman who experiences a life changing weekend. Tim Lippe (Helms) 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). 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. The fourth friend to round out the Cedar Rapids posse is Ronald Wilkes, played by Isiah Whitlock. Whitlock does a great job as the meek 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.
Arteta did an admirable job directing, showcasing the natural comedic timing/instinct of the great cast. Arteta brings plenty of comedy experience to the table, as he directed Youth in Revolt and episodes of Ugly Betty, Six Feet Under, and The Office.
There’s a good chance you can find this playing in a theatre near you, or somewhat near you, and I recommend the trek to see it.
Cedar Rapids is funny, endearing and has a great comic cast, making it one of the best comedies of the year.