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CEDAR RAPIDS, 2011
Tim Lippe (Helms) was the guy people always thought would go places but then he just ... didn't. He's been living in über-sleepy Brown Valley, Wisconsin his whole life, still "pre-engaged" to his 7th grade teacher Millie Vanderhei (Weaver), while selling insurance to protect other people's dreams. But now, Tim's stalled life is about to get a kick-start because, for the first time in his 34 years, he's headed to a "major" metropolis - Cedar Rapids, Iowa - where he must try to save his company at a do-or-die insurance convention that, for him, will be entirely nonconventional. From the minute he checks into his hotel with his ancient American Tourister and cummerbund money-belt, it's clear Tim has no idea how the modern world really works. He is soon smitten with seductive Nebraskan insurance agent Joan (Heche) and awed by his experienced roommates, the straight-shooting Wilkes (Whitlock Jr.) and the suspicious Zeigler (Reilly
Release Date: 11 February 2011
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is the kind of man-child you get in a lot of off beat comedies; a grown man living in a grown up world and yet almost clinically trapped in arrested development. He's lived all his life in his rural Wisconsin town, rarely dated, only ever worked one job at the same insurance agency since he was 16, and has a quite natural dread of the unknown, which is pretty much everything. So it's a pretty big deal when he has fly down to "Cedar Rapids" to attend the annual insurance convention after his idol dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident.
Miguel Arteta's follow up to "Youth in Revolt" is an odd sort of coming-of-age story not too different from a lot 'kids going off to college/road trip and finding out who they are' films. Just in this case the kid in question is a grown man in his late 30s and the 20-something drunken degenerates out to corrupt him are 40-something drunken degenerates.
At the head of the pack of said degenerates is Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a hard drinking, hard living, hard selling insurance man who has seen more than his fair share of insurance conventions and doesn't think much of them or their holier-than-thou chairmen (Kurtwood Smith).
Though he at first he seems everything Tim has been worried about in his great big venture into the wide, wide world (of Iowa) he can't seem to escape from Ziegler's clutches—even getting stuck with him as a roommate. Worse, despite himself he finds himself beginning to like the guy and the crowd of old hands (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Anne Heche) that surround him.
Which is without doubt the best part of "Cedar Rapids;" underneath its gentle mocking of the heartland is a just as potent appreciation of it and the people in it. Sure it likes to cast their hopes and dreams and loves as parochial, but it also tries hard to remind us that they are still real people. Tim is not entirely ignorant, just a little naïve, but his explanation of why he wanted to work in insurance is not a bad metaphor for the characters of the film and the world they inhabit—easily mocked and yet full of positives which are often over looked.
It's ably helped by a screenplay from first time feature screenwriter Phil Johnston which isn't afraid to get dark, though never too dark, and offers more for the supporting cast than usually expect. Under Arteta's hand the cast plays it just right, never too insane but never too straight. Reilly is just the right amount of boisterous, but everyone tends to get upstaged by the un-assuming Whitlock (and doubly so during the odd "The Wire" shout outs).
There's not much to take from "Cedar Rapids," just a nice evening entertainment. It plays some with subverting the clichés of the homogenous, xenophobic Midwest, but only a little. The film is more interested in following a standard path with, but that's okay.