Tim Lippe has no idea what he's in for when he's sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at an annual insurance convention, where he soon finds himself under the "guidance" of three convention veterans.
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After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
David O. Russell
Robert De Niro
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 Macy 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 unconventional. 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 Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) and awed by his experienced roommates, the straight-shooting Ronald Wilkes (Whitlock Jr.) and the suspicious Dean Zeigler (Reilly). Disheartened when he comes ... Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
"What happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids," says Joan, a "one of the guys" kinda woman played by Anne Heche who views her yearly trip to an insurance conference in Cedar Rapids as momentary liberation from her life's irrevocable commitments. For those of us who've tried to spend as little time in Iowa as possible, that little mantra's something of a joke, but escapism means something different to everyone. "Cedar Rapids" puts much in perspective this way by showcasing adults as the children they often are.
Ed Helms gets his first starring role as Tim Lippe, an insurance agent from Brown Valley, Wisc. who's never set foot out of his hometown and is even sleeping with his seventh grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver) to whom he's "pre-engaged." When the insurance company's golden boy dies of auto-erotic asphyxia (which Tim regularly refers to as "an accident"), Tim must represent the company at the annual ASMI conference in Cedar Rapids where he must win the coveted Two-Diamond award for excellence or it will cost the company dearly.
Helms nails the fish-out-of-water character using much of the same naiveté that made him a beloved addition to "The Office." Although in many instances his super-small-town mentality serves as a comedic ploy, it informs the way we watch the rest of the film, namely how he interacts with his new group of friends, characters that rather accurately represent the array of business types.
Tim first meets Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the amicable by-the-books guy with who tells bland jokes and means well. Then John C. Reilly storms onto the scene as Dean Ziegler a.k.a "The Deanzy," the straight-shooting schmoozer with absolutely no filter and as such, the source of much of the laughs so long as you find humor in creative vulgarity. Last would of course be Joan, who jokes around about seducing Tim but behaves otherwise. Heche seems to have found the path many actresses looking to rebound have taken: playing a damaged middle-aged woman trying to feel things out.
Essentially these characters are grown-up children in much the same way that the "The Office" brings playground dynamics to the adult world. Team-building activities and getting drunk are just the beginning for what these characters do and consequently how they behave. For Tim, it's a long-delayed loss of innocence. He learns that even parts of his ho-hum life can have a two-faced nature; those people he believes to be bad end up good and vice versa.
Director Miguel Arteta ("Youth in Revolt") seems to show an adeptness at this kind of comedy, drawing performances from the cast that provide nuanced characterization and believability. A comedy about Midwestern insurance agents doesn't work if the people don't seem average, yet at the same time, the characters are far from dull.
"Cedar Rapids" mostly struggles as most indies do in finding a balance between comedy and poignancy. The over-the-top comedic elements seem to push away from the dramatic, which is the film's greater strength. There's plenty of humor to be had in the nature of the story to the point that a scene with Tim going over the edge and smoking crack with a prostitute doesn't seem essential to say the least. Tim's reactions to moral conundrums seem a bit exaggerated as well in terms of the writing.
The ending lacks a bit of zing, but the intentions of Phil Johnston's script are pure and true. His focus stays on a well-cast protagonist and Tim's attitudes help create the perspective shift that allows us to enter the characters' shoes. The results are light-hearted and not preachy in the least.
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