Comic misadventure and self-discovery at a Midwest business convention
Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly and Anne Heche
Rated R, 1 hour, 27 min.
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Ed Helms, who steals plenty of scenes as desk jockey Andy Bernard on TV’s The Office, continues his breakout from the small screen in Cedar Rapids, a comedic tale about a naïve insurance agent at a sales convention.
To call his character, Tim Lippe, dorky is an understatement. Tim’s never been on an airplane and thinks the modestly sized Iowa burg from which the movie gets its title, the site of the three-day meeting, is a bustling metropolis akin to the Big Apple.
Representing the small local Midwestern agency for which he’s worked all his adult life, Lippe is sent to Cedar Rapids with clear instructions: Bring back the annual award for exemplary insurance service to continue his company’s winning streak.
The misadventure begins even before he meets his two roommates, mild-mannered workaholic Ron (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and potty-mouthed party animal Dean (John C. Reilly). And everyone except Tim seems to know Joan (Anne Heche), a flirty married mother of two who’s obviously let down her hair at the convention before. “What happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids,” she tells him.
The R rating is justified. This is not a movie for children. Dean constantly spews colorful vulgarities and hilariously obscene one-liners, and the characters carouse, couple and cavort in irresponsible and sometimes illegal ways. But there’s a restraint to the raunch that keeps it below the threshold of movies like last year’s The Hangover and Hot Tub Time Machine, both hit comedies about away-from-home shenanigans gone bawdily awry.
Please don’t stay away from Cedar Rapids because you think it’s another guys-on-the-prowl yukfest. It’s smarter, sweeter, and more sentimental than that.
The entire plot revolves around Lippe’s inexperience in virtually all worldly things, and the comedic clash that occurs when he’s confronted with people and situations that push him far out of his wholesome, sheltered comfort zone. But the movie never makes fun of Tim. Quite the contrary: He provides the emotional grounding that anchors everything, ultimately, to a sense of honor, honesty and integrity.
This wide-eyed innocent learns some valuable lessons about how the world really turns. And we learn enough about him, and the other characters, to see them as real people, with real lives, real insecurities and real needs, rather than simply comedic clichés.
And the plot, while providing a steady stream of grown-up laughs, moves along without a single gunshot, car chase or explosion. It’s easy to see why the movie was one of the favorites at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, which typically avoids the noisy bombast and bustle of the mainstream for quieter, quirkier fare.
So take a trip to “Cedar Rapids,” even if you have to seek out its limited-release run beyond your closest multiplex—outside your own “comfort zone.” Just be sure to stay for the credits. The “after” scenes of Tim, Ron, Dean and Joan will send you home with one last round of chuckles, and a lingering smile.