CEDAR RAPIDS (2011)
Running Time: 87 mins. Rating: 3 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Miguel Arteta
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Lennon, Rob Corddry, Mike O’Malley, Sigourney Weaver, Inga R. Wilson, Mike Birbiglia
Ed Helms has quickly become a key member of several successful comedy ensembles as evidenced by his work on Comedy Central’s signature program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” NBC’s “The Office,” and last year’s wildly successful movie, THE HANGOVER, which will have a sequel in theaters this Spring. Now Helms is starring in a film for the first time with the just released CEDAR RAPIDS, which made its debut at the just concluded Sundance Film Festival. Helms made an excellent choice with this very smart comedy that delivers both poignant laughs and believable characters.
Ed plays Tim Lippe, a rather innocent 34-year-old man who grew up in the fictitious town of Brown Valley, Wis. and has never really left. We’re not even sure if Tim has ever visited Milwaukee though he is spotted wearing a T-shirt with a Bucks logo on it in support of Brew City’s NBA team.
Tim is an insurance agent with Brownstar Insurance and truly believes in the product he sells. Raised with solid Midwestern values, it would pain him if he ever misled a customer to sell a policy.
It is that kind of genuineness that his boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), is hoping will land Brownstar the coveted Two-Diamond Award at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mutual Insurers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The award is given by insurance majordomo Oren Helgesson, a judgmental moralist who, as is seemingly always the case, has a dark side (the always welcome Kurtwood Smith). Krogstad tells Tim that the Two Diamond is a way of reassuring customers that they are with a quality agency, but the boss has another reason for coveting the trophy.
Conventions are kind of like class reunions, except that instead of seeing your buddies from high school and college, you’re hanging out with business peers. There are the obligatory scavenger hunts, talent contests and seemingly endless happy hours. For a guy who’s been living basically in a small-town cocoon, a convention, even in such a tiny burg as Cedar Rapids, is culture shock for Tim.
Tim’s roommate is Dean “Deanzie” Ziegler (John C. Reilly). When we first meet him, he comes off as the typical “in-your-face, life of the party” loudmouth that we’ve all run into at some point. As the film unfolds we learn that Dean is like Pagliacci, a clown who is mending a broken heart, and is actually a very decent guy who is protective of Tim.
Tim’s experience with the opposite sex is quite limited, so he doesn’t know what to do when an attractive insurance agent, Joan Fox-Ostrowski (Anne Heche), flirts with him. Heche’s character is a shade less worldly version of Vera Farmiga’s Alex Goran from 2009’s UP IN THE AIR.
The dialogue and characters very much ring true. The only misfire is a scene toward the end in which a drunk Tim winds up at a very ugly party on the outskirts of town being run by unsavory bikers and drug dealers and things quickly get brutal. Director Miguel Arteta told me at a press conference for the film that he was trying to emulate Jonathan Demme’s 1986 classic flick, SOMETHING WILD, a fun comedy that turned violent unexpectedly. While I understand a director’s desire to surprise an audience, Arteta came dangerously close to losing control of his film.
On the whole, though, CEDAR RAPIDS delivers rapid and heartfelt laughs.
If you like this recommendations: Risky Business, The Jerk, The Hangover