Cedar Rapids (The Super Awesome Edition)
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Helms/Reilly ~ Cedar Rapids
When a naive, small-town insurance agent named Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, The Hangover) goes to a convention in the big city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his life gets turned inside out under the influence of three convention veterans. This sort of fish-out-of-water comedy could have been a flimsy excuse for broad slapstick and absurd high jinks; instead, in the confident hands of director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Chuck & Buck), Cedar Rapids becomes something more humane and, in a quiet way, more ambitious. Helms manages to make Tim genuine, a man-child but not a cartoon; the movie's situations skirt wackiness, yet always remain in the realm of something emotionally real. (The movie also reflects the influence of producers Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who created the similarly character-rich movies Sideways, Almost Schmidt, and Election.) The whole cast hits the right notes, from such familiar faces as John C. Reilly (Magnolia, Talladega Nights), Anne Heche, and Sigourney Weaver to such stealthy character actors as Stephen Root (NewsRadio), Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire), and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development). Cedar Rapids is sweet without being cloying, funny without being manic, and even a little sad at times, without ever turning up the violins on the soundtrack. It's an honest movie, and there are all too few of them out there. --Bret Fetzer
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Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance agent for Brown Star Insurance in Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Tim is a simple and naïve, but good-hearted man, completely out of touch with the modern world. He is "pre-engaged" to his seventh-grade teacher Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver) and is oblivious to the world outside of Brown Valley. After a co-worker dies under mysterious circumstances, Tim's boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), sends him to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent the agency and claim the prestigious Two Diamonds Award. Upon his arrival, Tim befriends fellow insurance agents Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the hard-partying Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), while finding himself smitten with Joan (Anne Heche). Yielding both hilarious and heartfelt results, Tim is introduced to situations he never imagined he'd find in Brown Valley, Wisconsin.
Other familiar faces include Kurtwood Smith (as the ultra-religious president of the convention) and Rob Corddry (in a short, but amusing cameo). Probably the most light-hearted film Arteta has directed, some will still label it a "dark comedy" due to its willingness to disregard political correctness and develop characters truthfully. I've often thought of Arteta as "Alexander Payne-lite" as his distinct, off-beat style seems cut from the same stylistic cloth as the films of Alexander Payne. This similarity was never more apparent to me while watching Cedar Rapids and I was surprised to learn, when the credits rolled, that Payne and his frequent writing partner, Jim Taylor, are actually two of the film's producers. Arteta's direction and style lend a lot to the quality of the film, but that's not to diminish the influence of Phil Johnston's script, which made the 2009 Hollywood Blacklist of the best unproduced screenplays. The script is a marvel in the way it features strong, funny, and deeply human characters with only a so-so story to push them forward. There's nothing particularly bad about the script, it's just a fairly straight-forward story that reaches a fairly standard conclusion. This small criticism aside, it's still more touching and clever than any comedy I've seen this year.
One must give credit to the terrific cast for frequently elevating the quality of the material. Helms doesn't get the chance to expand his range very much with Tim, but he does offer another side of the introverted, passive, and awkward character he's made his name playing before. Whitlock Jr. almost steals the show with his performance as Ronald, possibly being the only actor (or person even) who can elicit a laugh from saying "The HBO series `The Wire.'" Heche does a nice turn with her role, as does Weaver, who brings more class and humor to her small role than most actresses would have. There is a lot of talent in front of the camera, but Reilly's performance alone is enough for me to recommend the film. Loud, rude and hilariously funny, Reilly brings enough comedic energy, heart, and colorful use of the English language to make a separate film.
Cedar Rapids is an intelligent, low-key film that quietly sneaks up on you and charms with an equal amount of heart and wit. It's much more satisfying and genuinely funny than a large percentage of Hollywood comedies being pushed into local cinemas each week and it boasts a terrific cast doing some fantastic, dynamic work. It fits more heart and humor into its 87-minute running time than most big comedies do with more than twice that.
But hey, why am I bothering? Isn't it really worth a 1 star? I mean at first it feels like a b-grade comedy with desperate jokes that fall flat on their face, and kinda one-dimensional characters who either are stiff nerds or who just belch, fart and swear? Well, so it seems.
But with closer inspection, Cedar Rapids delivers the goods... and then some. Tim Lippe is one of this most hilarious send-ups of a social mal-adjust you'll ever see, and his on-screen chemistry with Dean Ziegler (John C Reilly) produces fireworks.
Yet, in a subtle, almost invisible way the film is actually quite moving. The characters are far deeper than they at first appear, and this film is a deep analysis of human understanding of right and wrong, with an uproariously funny main plot.
You're left with a brilliant movie that gets better with each watch, worth picking up.
As one who has attended many such sales conventions, I recognized many of
the characters. The "newbie" who is led astray by the party hardy crowd but
triumphs in the end... The friendships forged by initial forced togetherness...
I recommend it.