Cedar Rapids Reviews
There are many jokes in this film concerning a na´ve insurance salesman from a small Midwest town who is forced to represent his company at the Cedar Rapids insurance convention, and while not all of them work, there is enough meat here to satisfy. Ed Helms walks a tightrope with his rube character, showing his unsophisticated side, while not falling into vaudevillian farce. When we first see Helms he is having a quirky sexual encounter with his former high school teacher (a wonderful cameo by Sigorney Weaver). We become aware of his naivette and rather skewed outlook on the world, which becomes the backbone of the film.
Through the usual shenanigans of the convention "let's have some fun" motif, Helms slowly becomes more aware of the real world, while still holding on to his soul, and that's the wonderfulness of the script and direction, and really what makes the film rise above so many of the screwball comedy/buddy films out there.
As I mentioned, not all the jokes work, but often the jokes are used to set up the character's depth and a throwaway line ends up coming back later to show that these conventioneers have real lives and real feelings. And yet there are some pretty darned funny moments - as when, after a drink fest, Reilly leads Heche and Helms to the hotel pool, where he spies a metal trash can. Taking off the metal lid of the can he places it on his head and proclaims it the top of an old style diving bell - just the simple look of Reilly standing in the pool with this trash can lid on his head is hilarious; and taking it a step further, Helms tells Reilly that he looks like R2D2 - which prompts Reilly to reply "beep beep".
I also got quite a laugh out of the straightlaced anacronym spewing black salesman, portrayed by Isaiah Whitlock. In one scene he and Heche try to rescue Helms, who has been snorting crack at a redneck party. The stiff Whitlock suddenly goes gansta, uttering gutter slang and saying he's locked and loaded and always keeps one in the chamber. As they make their getaway Heche asks him where the jive came from and he replies that he loves to watch The Wire and has a thing for Omar (watch the show, really - it's super good).
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, especially in the way it kept rescuing itself from the normal average of the genre. The closing bits that play over the credits are just homespun easy humor, the kind you used to get watching The Carol Burnett Show, and show that Areta really knew what he was trying to accomplish with this film.
HAHAHAHAH LOL! LOL!
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is an insurance salesman from Brown Valley, Wisconsin. The town is small but the little insurance agency that could has won the coveted Two Diamond Award four years running at the annual insurance convention held in Cedar Rapids. Tim's life is in a holding pattern. He wants to do big things but can't find the oomph to get there. He's involved in a romantic tryst with his (one-time) seventh grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver). Tim's chance to make a name for himself comes when he's selected to represent his company at the annual convention. He has to impress the right people to take home another Two Diamond Award. Never having been on a plane before, he leaves small-town Brown Valley for big-city Cedar Rapids. At the convention site, Tim rooms with Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the more unsophisticated Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). The group meets up with Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), and together they work on helping Tim loosen up. Over the course of the weekend, bonds will be made, principles will be tested, and tom foolery of the first order will be had.
The premise is rather simple, small-town guy heads to the big city (well, bigger) and the culture shock that waits. But the film never looks down on Tim Lippe. While there is plenty of humor drawn from his naivetÚ, the movie doesn't condescend or play up the small-town folks as rubes and squares. It's funny to see Tim's mild-mannered explosions of anger, mostly of the "horse pucky" variety of vulgarities, but the movie doesn't say that the big-city folk are better than Tim. On the contrary, Tim is a principled and devoted insurance salesman, courteous to a fault. He could have stepped out of a Frank Capra movie from a bygone era (Mr. Lippe Goes to Town). Tim is sheltered, which provides some amusing fish out of water comedy, like when he initially is on alert because his roommate is African-American, a rarity in Brown Valley despite whatever the name may imply to some. Tim is a man out of time, but that can be small-town life in general. The Midwestern satire reminds me of the gentle yet knowing nudge of King of the Hill. Phil Johnston's script sets up Tim's dilemma as a crisis of conscience, the compromises we make in morality. Tim's trip to the "big city" is the push the guy needs to get his life out of stasis. There's something deeply satisfying in watching a character you care about triumph in the end, even if that triumph is a small victory befitting a small-town guy with a big heart.
The real fun of the movie, however, is watching the effect the group has not just on Tim but on each other. They teach Tim to cut loose and live a little, but this is still Cedar Rapids, so cutting loose goes as far as nighttime pool escapades and drunken sex. His flirtatious fling with Joan brings the guy out of his shell, and the two of them are genuinely cute together without going overboard. It's a reserved romance that feels true to the nature of both of the characters. Dean is the loudmouth knucklehead notorious for his oafish shenanigans, but once he feels accepted he goes to war for his friends. He's a buffoon but not stupid. And then Ronald, though less developed than the other three, provides a nice foil as a straight-laced businessman who keeps it together impressively. Together it's a team of likeable characters that have grown closer together over the course of that weekend in Cedar Rapids, and you'll feel the same. You feel like they've formed a family around the earnestness of Tim.
Helms (The Hangover) is a suitable candidate for a nice, regular, Midwestern guy. Helms has honed his awkward comedy chops after several seasons on TV's The Office, and here he sticks to what he knows. Tim Lippe is another in a line of embryonic men. Helms settles into his usual nervous tics that fans will be familiar with. His sunny naivetÚ wins over the audience and provides for several laughs in contrast with the jaded "big city" folk. Reilly (Step Brothers) can overdo his character's intentional obnoxiousness. He's chartered a successful second career as a winsome nitwit, so like Helms, Reilly relies on notes gleaned from past performances. Whitlock Jr. is mostly straight man to the others. His comedic highpoint is an impromptu impersonation of a character from The Wire to get the group out of a dangerous jam (Whitlock Jr. himself played a state senator on The Wire). Other than that, he's more contrast than character. Heche (TV's Hung) is a real surprise. She underplays her character, tantalizing us with tidbits that leave us wanting more, much like Tim. The way she plays Joan, you feel the connection.
With all that said, Cedar Rapids still has its share of flaws. The na´ve comedy can go so far before you start to question Tim's senses, like his casual mistaking of a prostitute (Alia Shawkat, Whip It) for a fellow attendant. His relationship with his former seventh grade teacher is intentionally awkward, but the whole plotline presents an unseemly overtone that doesn't fit. She's made to be rather motherly, even when she's rolling her eyes at her bedmate's pie-eyed declarations of being "pre-engaged." I think the motherly aspect makes the whole Oedipal mess even worse (Weaver just seems bored). Late into Act Three Tim goes on a drug-fueled bender that feels out of place for his character who, when first asked for a drink, requested a beer of the root kind. The character of Dean is given too many moments to just wander around and spout crude one-liners. It sometimes feels like the movie is resting while it lets Dean do his thing, and a little of this guy can go a long way.
The plot is relatively predictable and the ending is pretty pat. It works, but the actors and the characters were capable of more. The relationship between Tim and Joan also leaves something to be desired. There's a great assembly of recognizable guests (Stephen Root, Thomas Lennon, Rob Corddry, Mike Birbiglia) that stop by but add little. Again, the potential for more feels missed. With a solid 80% of the movie taking place in a hotel, you can also start to feel a little cabin fever. And not that it matter much, but I'm disappointed that film with "Cedar Rapids" in its name was filmed in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Iowa did away with its in-state film tax credit).
The appeal of Cedar Rapids, the film, is much like the appeal of its central figure, Tim Lippe. It's an unassuming, earnest charm, enjoying the company of likeable characters who we want to see succeed. I just wish the predictable plot had done more or trusted the actors' capabilities. The core characters feel mostly authentic and easily recognizable, which makes the familiar, if at times bland, plot fairly forgivable. Helms and company are an easygoing bunch and you'll be happy to tag along on their unspectacular hijinks in the "big city." Cedar Rapids is the kind of low-key, charming little movies that often gets overlooked. It's worth viewing for the pleasurable camaraderie of the core cast. Cedar Rapids, much like the city that bears its name, is worth a visit but does not require more commitment than that.
Nate's Grade: B
Director: Miguel Arteta
Summary: Terrified of leaving his tiny town for the first time, sheltered insurance salesman Tim (Ed Helms) nervously sets out for the bright lights of bustling Cedar Rapids, where he attends a chaotic insurance convention and learns how to survive in the real world.
My Thoughts: "The movie was a lot funnier then I had perceived it to be, and on of the funnier films I have seen this year. The three leads are great in the movie. John C. Reilly stole the show in every scene he was in. Ed Helms was very funny in his wholesome image. Seeing his character unravel in the house party scene was just hilarious. My favorite part with Isiah Whitlock Jr. for me was when he goes all gangster on Rob Corddry. The movie is a lot of fun with great character's and loads of good performances especially from Alia Shawkat and Anne Heche. Definitely worth the rental if your in the mood for a classic comedy that doesn't have to push too many boundaries."