Cedar Rapids

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John C. Reilly’s career, as seen from the perspective of a long-time fan, looks like the most boring roller coaster in the world. One long flat track punctuated by a towering hill at the end that never drops. I remember him first and fondly from his appearances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 90s indies: Hard Eight (Sydney), Boogie Nights and Magnolia. He also made small but worthy appearances in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Hoffa and The Thin Red Line. He seemed destined to be a great character actor, someone who’d churn out indie after indie, but never quite break into the mainstream. But he did. He hit it out of the park, popularity-wise, with Talledega Nights and hasn’t looked back.

It might seem a little strange that I open this review talking about John C., when the star of the show here is Ed Helms. But I’ll get to the reasoning later. Cedar Rapids, directed by Miguel Arteta, is a fish out of water story. The salmon, in this case, is insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Helms), who floats in a puddle of a town, Brown Valley, WI. Lippe’s secluded life has never allowed him to mature into a normal, socially active adult. His closest relationship is with his 6th grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver), who’s twice his age. He’s bright, sweet and hard-working, but if you were to judge his naiveté on a scale of 1-100, he’d score in the high 90s.

Lippe, through tragicomic circumstances, is chosen to represent his insurance company at the annual ASPI conference in Cedar Rapids. Small insurance companies from around the midwest converge to vie for the coveted Two Diamond Award. There is only one very important instruction from the bossman back home: “Stay away from Dean Ziegler.” That’ll be tough since they’re bunking together. Dean, or Deanzie, as he likes to be called, enters the frame, a tornado of a man, sweeping up anything booze-like within arm’s reach and cracking tasteless, damn funny jokes in every direction, sparing no feelings or shame. Lippe’s never met anyone like this.

As it happens in life, Lippe eventually becomes embroiled in the politicking, depravity and scheming of the real world. The conflict in the story arises in his moral dilemmas — small-town ideals confront “big-city” scenarios. Although it’s never too serious and it’s all handled with a light heart.

John C. Reilly almost steals the show, which is why I mentioned him first. He brings so much depth to his character, who played by someone else might come off solely as comic relief. Instead, we see that underneath Deanzie’s frenetic exterior is a man humbled and lonely from divorce and who’s steadfastly loyal to his friends.

Ed Helms is perfectly suited for this role, maybe because we’re already so familiar with his similar character, Andrew Bernard, from The Office. Although Nard-dawg has more sinister undertones, they both have a certain gullibility that translates into sad-puppy sympathy. It says a lot about Helms’s performance in Cedar Rapids that he outshines the fantastic performances of the supporting characters.

Cedar Rapids cares for its characters and doesn’t treat Lippy’s innocence as a punchline. It allows the characters who’ve been hardened by lives of divorce and disappointment to soak in a little of that tenderness. While they all know he’s too naive for his own good, they’re also a little bit jealous. There are a lot of places the script, by Phil Johnston, could have gone that would have taken it down the path of predictability. Instead, it delivers solid laughs and never retreats from the honesty and good heart at its core.

tags: anne heche, cedar rapids, ed helms, john c reilly, miguel arteta

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  • pinkston

    I agree with your review on most parts here. It’s not exactly a rip-ride of laughter, but there are enough laugh-out-loud moments to let it deliver, but the most surprising thing is the depth of the characters. Even Ed Helm’s Lippe is a little more than just the small-town boob that he’s presented as. You don’t see that a lot with main-stream comedies these days on the screen or in television and it came as a welcomed surprise.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    yeah, you’re exactly right, its the depth of the characters that elevates this from a traditional comedy. i’d recommend Arteta’s other features too, especially The Good Girl.

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