A film review by Craig J. Koban May 16, 2011
2011, R, 86 mins.
2011, R, 86 mins.
Tim: Ed Helms / Dean: John C. Reilly
Joan: .Anne Heche / Macy: Sigourney Weaver / Ronald: Isiah Whitlock
Bill: Stephen Root / Orin: Kurtwood Smith
RAPIDS is a new comedy about an innocent and naïve man-child
insurance salesman named Tim Lippie (Ed Helms) that has seemingly never
been out of his tiny town of Brown Valley...that is until his boss sends
him to a big regional convention in - gasp! - Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Life certainly is mundane and painfully ordinary for Tim at
home, but when he arrives in the “big” city for his convention, it’s
almost as if the entire world has exponentially opened up for him.
He’s introduced to pleasures from his other fellow conventioneers
that were just not possible back in Brown Valley, like alcohol, drugs, wild
parties, and one night stands. To
Tim, Cedar Valley is like freakin’ Vegas.
The film certainly traverses on some exceedingly familiar territory and involves a relative who’s who of stock characters throughout its barely 90 minute running time. Yet, what makes the film feel so oddly unique and original is its offbeat likeability and the manner it adeptly balances f-bomb riddled raunch with an undercurrent of sweetness.
CEDAR RAPIDS deserves it’s R-rating for its potty mouthed shenanigans throughout, but the film is so frequently hilarious for how it centers all of its lewdness within its quietly honest and keenly observant portrayal of its main character. In many ways, it reminded me considerably of THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and many of the best films of the Judd Apatow cannon: It’s one thing for a filmmaker to unleash petty gross-out gags and ear-rattling profanity on screen, but it takes a more delicate and astute hand to add dimension and create a rooting interest in the film’s personas. It’s kind of amazing, but CEDAR RAPIDS is a comedy that manages to contain copious amounts of filthy gutter talk, booze and drug intake, and sexual trysts as well as people we relate to and empathize with.
– as played in a standout comedic performance by Ed Helms – is
certainly hard to hate. He is
mild mannered, politely spoken, dresses everyday like he’s about to
attend church, and has a flat and parted
hairline that usually is attributed to infants.
He loves his job as an insurance salesman, perhaps a bit too much,
as he often sees it as a noble profession that “saves" people’s
lives. Yet, do not let his
Clark Kentian façade fool you: he ain’t another 40-year-old virgin.
He actually is having a sexual fling with a much older woman, his
own 7th Grade teacher to be precise, played briefly, but with gusto, by
Sigourney Weaver. His former
teacher is only in this relationship for the sex, but Tim seems to
idealistically believe that they are a couple bound for marriage.
He is so earnest, nice, and endearingly dense that it’s easy to
see why she has a hard time explaining otherwise to him.
Tim's life is thrown a bit upside down when his boss (Stephen Root) decides, as mentioned, that he needs him to represent his firm for an upcoming Cedar Rapids convention? Why? It blatantly appears that Tim’s boss’ first choice died during an autoerotic asphyxiation incident, but Tim is so obtuse that he believes that the man he is replacing died via a tragic accident. Nonetheless, Tim’s mission at the convention is to secure a widely sought after prestigious award that would all but make his boss’ company stand out as a real winner, so Tim begins to feel some real pressure before he even boards the plane. Oh, even boarding the plane is stressful, seeing as Tim has never been on one.
he arrives in Cedar Rapids – an outwardly normal looking town to just
about anyone that has engaged in modest travel – Tim is absolutely
elated at everything he comes in contact with.
He has a wide-eyed childlike glee when he comes to the hotel,
checks out all of its amenities, and is astonished by just about anything he walks by. His roommates for the convention are the hard working and
honorable Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the blabber-mouthed,
slobby, and sleazy Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly, who knows how to play
roles like this in his sleep). Tim
also meets an attractive female salesman named Joan (Anne Heche) that he
begins to fall for, even though she’s married and he’s
“pre-engaged” to his schoolteacher sex buddy.
Tim also becomes friendly with Bree (Alia Shawkat) and, despite all
beyond-obvious cues, he does not seem in on the fact that she’s a whore.
Things get really, really complicated for Tim when he begins to
partake in the sinful and once forbidden pleasures of liquor, drugs of
many forms, and overall free-wheeling revelry, but he also gets a crude
wake-up call to the types of ruthless minded sharks that populate his
overall performances are so nuanced and well laid out that you quickly
forget that the actors are essentially playing types.
I liked Anne Heche playing her independent minded, forthright, and
go-getter role with a level of sass and spontaneity I have not seen from
the actress in awhile. John
C. Reilly delivers on his role’s requisite level of being a high partying
middle-aged frat boy that wields his throw-caution-to-the-wind insolence
with a badge of honor. Perhaps
even more deceptively hilarious is Isiah Whitlock Jr., who hysterically
reminds his fellow salesman of his oftentimes-fixated appreciation for
“HBO’s THE WIRE.” The
in-gag is that, yes, Whitlock is in THE WIRE.
Helms, though, thoroughly owns this comedy, and his brief stint on TV’s
THE DAILY SHOW, THE OFFICE, and a movie supporting role in THE
HANGOVER only highlighted how good a performer he is at playing up
to his character's’ discomfort and awkwardness alongside their
innocence and everyman ordinariness.
What he does in CEDAR RAPIDS is to take a hapless schmuck role that
could have been reduced to a broad and unfunny caricature and instead
infuses in him a sense of aw-shucks decency, inescapable wonder, docile
graciousness, and an oftentimes-sidesplitting gullibility.
Yet, Tim is never so annoyingly and head-smackingly naïve that you
want to hit him. Rather,
he’s delectably and disarmingly dim-witted and sweetly honor bound, so
much so that his new friends around him – and the audience – really begin
to like and root for him. Tim
is likeable not just because he’s a total social philistine to the world
around him, but perhaps more because he’s just a good man that wants to
CEDAR RAPIDS was directed by Miguel Artera who made, for my money, one of last year’s most criminally overlooked and side-splitting comedies in YOUTH IN REVOLT. Both that Michael Cera comedy and this one have the same level of observance for how to generate big laughs out of situations involving empathetically well drawn, run of the mill characters with hearts of gold that get involved in transgressive situations that often spiral way out of their control. Both YOUTH IN REVOLT and CEDAR RAPIDS are so ultimately winning and charming because they have their fingers squarely on the pulses of their buttoned-downed and deeply sincere personas, which often allows for their comedy to be both hilarious and heartfelt. I laughed out loud several times throughout CEDAR RAPIDS, but not because I thought that Tim was a dweeb beyond redemption, but maybe more because I felt for the poor sap and the predicaments he finds himself in, both willingly and involuntarily.
The film also wisely preaches an unwavering truth: any town, no matter how dull and trivial, can become a partying Mecca of impulsive ribaldry, especially for those that really, really don’t get out much.