Cedar Rapids (2011)

Directed by Miguel Arteta
Written by Phil Johnston

“Cedar Rapids”, like most indie comedies, is full of faces you recognize and names you don’t. The two leads are famous enough: Ed Helms, better known as Andy from the television series “The Office”, and John C. Reilly, who fans will recognize from such comedies as “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights”. But the rest of the cast is rounded out by veteran indie performers such as Kurtwood Smith and Stephen Root. But the cast is one of the best things about this small, yet funny, comedy about life in a small town.

Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance agent from a small town in Wisconsin who gets promoted when his successful co-worker dies in interesting fashion. With a new job title, Tim is saddled with a new commitment: he must represent the company at the next insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where more than fifty firms will compete for the coveted Two Diamonds Award. This is a big step for Tim, who has known nothing but Brown Valley, Wisconsin his whole life and is currently in a relationship with his former teacher, Macy (Sigourney Weaver). But when the sheltered Tim arrives at the hotel, with specific instructions from his boss, he encounters an interesting group of fellow insurance agents who are sure to set him astray from his predetermined course. First he befriends the one man he was told to avoid, Dean (Reilly), then proceeds to lose his edge when he decides against his better judgment to party with Joan (Anne Heche), Dean and fellow roommate Ronald (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.). The question is can he pull off the miracle and recover in time to save his job and bring home the big award?

What brings this comedy all together is the chemistry between the ensemble cast. Each actor has their role and each plays it well. In this case Helms is the straight man while Reilly plays the outlandish Dean Z., who is always loud and never shy to express his desire to party. In the case of Helms’ Tim, the character is just enough of a square to be able to match, and often times balance, the over-the-top nature of Reilly’s character. The two seem to be a natural fit. Anne Heche is also a good addition to the proceedings. Not known for her comedic turns, Heche brings an interesting sexual dynamic to the film which further fuels the antics of the group of wily insurance agents.

Like any good comedy, “Cedar Rapids” is full of its fair share of laughs, but also has the sensibilities to infuse just enough drama to allow the film to naturally progress and not lean on the humor as a crutch to get through the film. Independent film is often noted for its quirk, but it also stands that heart be a part of any film and “Cedar Rapids” is no different. The experiences of Tim Lippe are comedic gold for any comedy film, but the script is smart enough to be able to utilize the situation to also examine the differences between small town and big city and what it means to come out of a shell and start to interact with the people around you out of want and not just necessity. “Cedar Rapids” is a success, albeit a short (87 minutes) one.

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