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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