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Sunday, February 20, 2011

‘Cedar Rapids’ Is Charming and “Super Awesome!”

Cedar Rapids = 3 ½ out of 5
Tim Lippe:  The hotel pool is incredibly.  There are palms trees and the whole place smells like chlorine.  It’s like I’m in Barbados or something.
Sometimes you can tell a lot from how good a comedy can be simply by the names of your main characters.  Standard, ho-hum comedies may go for simplicity with names like John or Jane without mention of a last name.  Other comedies like to have fun with all of the details, like this film for example.  It is not enough that Cedar Rapids has people named Tim Lippe and Dean Ziegler; it has to go farther and make sure we know all the nicknames their friends give to them and repeat them enough that we find them to be memorable.  I am not saying these are always the ingredients to a successful comedy, but this aspect is enough to convince me that there was enough positive energy in the making of this film to develop such a particular detail.  With that being said, Cedar Rapids is a very successful comedy.  It doesn’t knock laughs out of the part, but it has a quirky fascination with its characters that makes it quite charming and sweet at times, while still celebrating its crude humor throughout.

Ed Helms stars as Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman, based in the sleepy town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin.  Tim is the sort of naïve fellow who is in his mid-30s, but has never left his home town.  He does well enough at his job, but has never progressed into being something greater.  As Tim sees it, his greatest accomplishment is his current relationship with his former 7th grade teacher, Ms. Vanderhei, played by Sigourney Weaver (although she is clearly in it for the action and nothing else).  Fortunately for Tim, his life is about to take a new turn, as the boss has given him the go ahead to attend an annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


Upon arriving in Cedar Rapids, Tim meets up with his roommates at the hotel.  They include mild mannered Ronald “Ronimal” Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and the obnoxious blowhard, Dean “Deansie” Ziegler (John C. Reily).  Both are convention veterans, along with the third usual member of this team, Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who uses the time of this event as more of a vacation away from her regular life as a working wife and mother.  While Tim is just a newbie looking to score points for his own company, the various situations and characters he encounters during this convention are going to be moving him far away from his comfort zone.
Rock Climbing Instructor:  Just give me your hand.
Tim Lippe:  I don’t trust people with ponytails!

What I enjoyed most about this film is exactly what it sets out to do – let you spend time with a good group of fellas, as they showcase some of their comedic talents without ever breaking the boundaries of reality.  Everything that occurs in this film seems like it could have actually taken place, as opposed to pushing things far too broad.  It works in some films better than others, and in Cedar Rapids it succeeds.  The film is less about over-the-top comedic set pieces and more about a lot of good quiet laughs, with some bigger punches along the way.  This is a fun set of characters, all acting like real people, and the movie is better for it.

Ed Helms does very solid work as the lead.  As he was very involved in the scripting of his character, one can expect him to use what works for him in other roles, such as Andy on The Office, to work for him here (basically meaning that gets to sing at one point).  However, he is still playing a different character than his other roles.  His role as Tim is a fun character who you really want to like due to his innocent nature, especially given how much he declares the little things in life to be “super awesome”.

 
The other actors all do good work as well.  John C. Reily is of course a natural comedic talent, and manages to make Ziegler a very crass man, always hitting some inappropriate marks, but still knows when it is time for the other actors to have the spotlight.  It also helps that beneath all his layers, the character of Ziegler really is a nice person, who sticks by his friends.  Also very fun is Whitlock as Ron, who manages to send up his own role on the HBO program, The Wire, by playing a character that is a big fan of that show.  It has the feel of an inside joke, but it’s the kind of detail that makes me admire the film more.  Finally, Anne Heche is surprisingly very well suited to be hanging around with these boys, as she displays some natural chemistry with the cast and has a fun time being involved.  A number of other comedic and character actors show up as well, which rounds out the film quite nicely.


Director Miguel Arteta has previously helmed other features that are based around quirky characters in obscure settings such as The Good Girl and Youth in Revolt.  This film is very much one that fits right into his filmography.  The humor is played very low key and all of the actors feel embodied in their characters.  Stylistically, there is not much going on, but this is very much a film about characters and funny banter.  The actual plot of the film, scripted by Phil Johnston, is more or less inconsequential, but clocking in just less than 90 minutes, the film never wears out its welcome.


I had a good time watching Cedar Rapids.  While good natured, the film has a lot of fun with being a low key, yet raunchy look at three guys and a gal getting a little wild at a Midwest work convention.  That, in itself, seems like a good enough reason to go seek out this limited release flick.  I must also note that the film understands how much you will like seeing these guys together so much so that the credits do manage to have two additional scenes involving all of them.  It is those fun little bonuses that make you glad to have learned their names.
Ziegler:  What’s the matter friend, you’ve never seen a chocolate-vanilla love sandwich before?

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