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Greetings again from the darkness. I have said many times that comedies
are the most difficult of all film genres since no two people have the
same sense of humor. While many people laughed til they cried during
"The Hangover", others walked out of the theatre or simply had no
interest at all. The same can be said for just about any Mel Brooks
movie, as well as his contemporary, Judd Apatow. What we do know, is
that a comedy's chance for success comes down to its characters, and in
this area, "Cedar Rapids" works like a charm.
Ed Helms (Andy in "The Office") stars as Tim Lippe, the most sheltered, naive mid-western insurance agent ever captured on film. Lippe lives and works in Brown Valley, Wisconsin ... the most sheltered, naive mid-western town ever captured on film. His only real excitement is found through his "pre-engagement" to his 7th grade teacher played very well by Sigourney Weaver (probably the most worldly person in Brown Valley). When an embarrassing accident claims the life of the hot shot agent in Lippe's firm, the owner (Stephen Root) sends Lippe to the annual convention in Cedar Rapids. His mission is to win the coveted 2-Diamond Award presented by industry legend Orin Helgesson (a snippy Kurtwood Smith).
Since a lone character can't generate many laughs, circumstances at the convention cause Lippe to find himself roommates with a very noble Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr from "The Wire") and fast-talking poacher Dean Ziegler (John C Riley). These 3 are joined together by Nebraska agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche). Lippe is quickly introduced to the "real world" by his new friends and after the first 20 minutes of set-up, the lines and settings get funnier and funnier.
As with most comedies these days, the trailer gives away much more than it should; but, unlike most, it leaves plenty of laughs and situations for the film. What really makes this work is that all characters are actually pretty nice people ... they are just a bit exaggerated in their traits. Lippe is a bit too naive. Wilkes is a bit too uptight. Ziegler is a bit too obnoxious, and Fox is just a little too lonely and adventurous. Still, their earnestness is what keeps the film grounded.
Mr. Helms is really a comic force. He has the extraordinary ability to never hold back or worry how that he might not look cool. Even as the lead character, he knows when scene-stealer John C Riley should have the spotlight. This is a tremendous asset for a comic.
I won't give away much, but will warn that some of the humor is crude ... especially some of Riley's rapid-fire one-liners. If you prefer your humor to be grounded with real people, then you might want to check this one out. I have only previously known this director, Miguel Arteta, as the guy responsible for Jennifer Aniston's best screen performance ("The Good Girl"). Now I look forward to his next project.
I think Ed Helms just invented a new genre, the Midwestern. Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Riley and Isiah Whitlock Jr. take you on one heck of a funny ride from the very beginning all the way through the end credits. Miguel Arteta did a terrific job directing the talented ensemble. Phil Johnston's hilarious screenplay humor was kept real without succumbing to worn out clichés. Ed Helms' character insurance agent Tim Lippe made you believe in his distinct sense of right and wrong. He transformed those around him by example not preaching. Every character added to the richness and heart of the movie. What could have easily become another sophomoric slapstick comedy turned out to be a wonderful story that just happened to be the funniest thing I've seen in a long time.
I have to admit that when I saw the poster for this, I thought it looked lame. I then checked out IMDb and saw it had 7.2. I still wasn't convinced. I then only watched it because it was the only film on at the time I wanted to go out. And I'm glad I did. This film is gem - a mix between an indie film, dark comedy and farce. It kind of reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite but not as quirky. This film is funny and really enjoyable on so many levels. The cast is perfect - all performing above and beyond. John C Reilly is a legend in this film and just about steals the show from Ed Helms. I suggest you go watch this film expecting very little and you'll come away feeling like you've just been given a free gift, unlike most films which rob you!
"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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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Really wanted to like this film (I mean, look at the cast). It had an
interesting premise, but after a while the lazy shortcuts the script
took became too egregious to ignore.
(Commencing character spoilers now)
a) All of the specifically identified "religious" people turned out to be hypocrites who were either corrupt or foul-mouthed to an extreme when they didn't get what they wanted. Lazy, clichéd, been done to death.
b) About 2/3 thru the story, our hero ends up at a mid-western crack house, where he emotionally opens up after the most excellent catharsis provided by crack and cocaine. Incredibly lazy writing there, to say nothing of the philosophical prostitute with the implied heart of gold.
c) The paragon of integrity turns out to be the foul-mouthed drunken lout, the only person in touch enough with himself to be true and real, and helps our hero on the path to his real self.
You get the idea. What a waste of a good, talented, cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Seriously, someone read this script and decided to fund it? For what
reason? The laughs simply aren't. Ed Helms may have been perfect for
the Daily Show but he is not leading man material. His face isn't
funny. His voice isn't funny. His mannerisms aren't funny. He just
can't carry a movie, there's really nothing there.
We're supposed to believe that a 35+ year old insurance salesman is so non-worldly, he can't figure out what a prostitute is, yet he's busy in the opening scene with his elementary school teacher, Sigourney Weaver, who sleepwalks through her lines in obvious boredom. John C. Reilly unimaginatively plays the most obvious over-the-top crass salesman who checks all the boxes of this type of over worn character. The other actors fill their respective spaces, with Ann Heche being especially creepy.
Everything that happens is as predictable as sundown, no surprises at all. Oh my, Ed Helms doesn't do drugs, but here, he's going to...and we have to sit through that 15 minutes section of the movie. Golly, the head of the seminar is crooked...and we have to wait while that plays out letter-by-letter. Heavens, there's cursing and shock value lines as out of place as Stephen Hawking at a quinceañera. It seems as if it was written by a hayseed as clueless as the main character. Honestly, he reacts to a "black man" in his hotel room as if it was an outtake of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" that they scrapped because it was too stupid...in 1967.
Like a bad car wreck covered by yellow sheets, "move along people, there's nothing to see here!" I'd almost rather see a Matt Damon film.
Cedar Rapids is 2011's second overlooked comedy gem, with the first
being the retro throwback Take Me Home Tonight. This is a subtle,
funny, witty, and different film that has innocent characters, with one
thing in common - their job. These characters could very well be
America's second wolfpack.
I always wonder what would happen if these type of films, underrated comedies, got the same attention and recognition films like The Hangover and Pineapple Express got. Would we hear more quotes and references from these films? Would America have a different taste in humor? Would Cedar Rapids set the bar for newer comedies? It's all "would's" and "what if's." The plot: Naive insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Helms) is what some may call a "loser." He lives a quiet life, isn't the most social person, and sleeps with his old fourth grade teacher (Weaver). Tim has to attend an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, and this will be the first time he has flown or stayed in a hotel. He believes everyone will be as nice as back home, but in fact, everyone is different and the real-world will bite Tim in the rear.
Tim stays in a suite with three people;. He meets soft-spoken, quiet-man Ronald Wilkes (Whitlock Jr.). Loud-mouth, party animal Dean Ziegler (Reilly). And married, but sweet Joan (Heche). This group of new-friends are all after one thing; an award that the manager of the convention, (Smith), will give to one representative of their company.
This is one of those rare occasions where the characters are so sweet, so innocent, and so well-developed I want to just hug them. Each character is likable in their own way. Even Ziegler, who is not a victim of his simpleton self or his own stupidity like Alan from The Hangover, is a very serious and loving guy despite his hard-partying self.
Certain films, once again referring back to The Hangover, rely on antics to carry the comedy which is perfectly fine with me. But when the antics play like a "how-far-can-we-go-type-of-comedy" the result becomes a repetitive and unenjoyable comedy. Cedar Rapids has antics, but not antics just for the purpose of a cheap, gross-out laugh and that's what makes this gem stand out.
If 2011 doesn't offer any more hilarious comedies, which I highly doubt, The Art of Getting By, Bridesmaids, Cedar Rapids, Hall Pass, and Take Me Home Tonight proudly make 2011 one funny year.
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root, Mike O'Malley, Sigourney Weaver , and Alia Shawkat. Directed by: Miguel Arteta.
My first 2011 film. It's a pretty unambitious comedy, but it survives because of a fantastic cast. Too fantastic, really. I have to wonder what drew them to this rather middling material. Ed Helms (of The Office and The Daily Show) stars as a sheltered insurance salesman from a small town in northern Wisconsin who is drafted by his boss (Stephen Root) to go to an insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He's pretty inexperienced with life outside his own little bubble, and he gets led astray by troublemaker John C. Reilly. The film also co-stars Isaiah Whitlock, Jr. (who co-starred in HBO's The Wire, a series for which the character espouses a lot of love), Anne Heche (extremely good - probably the only good thing I've ever seen her done), Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat (of the TV series (not the rap group) Arrested Development) and Kurtwood Smith (of That 70s Show and RoboCop). I wanted to see this one because of its Midwestern setting. Part of me was afraid that it would be Hollywood making fun of Midwesterners, but it's pretty gentle. Helms may play a sheltered small-town guy, but it's just him (Reilly's character is from Steven's Point, WI, and he's not a rube; he is a drunk, though). The film actually has a lot of affection for the Midwest, and it has a lot of heart.
OK, so I seen this film on IMDb with quite a good rating and wanted to know what the fuss was about so, I proceeded to purchase and watch the movie, I have to tell you I put it on expecting it to be terrible, and for the first 10 minutes I did find it pretty boring with jokes that just didn't really make the cut but believe me people once the real storyline kicks in, this movie can be pretty hilarious in places, with characters that EVERYBODY will love, I have seriously not seen a movie in a long time where I felt as if I liked the characters this much, overall its a short laugh riot, which really does deserve the rating it gets online, its only on for around 1hour and 20 minutes, and the jokes come every 1 - 2 minutes so you should be entertained throughout the whole movie.
This film got reasonable reviews so I decided to make the effort to
check it out, not least of which because of the cast that features
quite a few names and faces that I know from either being instantly
recognizable (Weaver, Reilly, Heche) or from their work on other
projects that I like a great deal (The Office, Arrested Development,
The Wire etc). The plot here is fairly straightforward, a small-town
insurance salesman has to replace a colleague at a regional conference
in Cedar Rapids and win the prestigious award that his company has won
many years running. It is a simple idea and much of the comedy will
come from the sweetly naïve Tim having his eyes opened to a wider world
while also trying to keep his principles in place. Like I say, a basic
plot and it very much depends on what the script does within that
There are plenty of ideas here and plenty of set-pieces but the problem is that the film doesn't really deliver any of them really well. On one hand we have aspects of it that are the rather awkward naïve comedy that Helms does with his character in The Office. This manifests itself in his relationship with an older woman (she is having fun, he is deeply in love) or his inability to know a prostitute when he sees one. On the other hand we have the more exaggerated adventures he gets drawn into, these involving sex, drink and drugs. Neither of these two aspects is particularly strong either individually or together and, at best, they produce amusing moments and the occasionally laugh but nothing particularly engaging nor particularly funny. Instead what we get is plenty going on in terms of noise and activity and perhaps this is enough to distract and, for me, mostly it was. The actual plot is quite obvious and heads to a sort of solid ending but I was quite surprised by how lackluster much of it was.
The cast are perhaps part of me being disappointed in the outcome but all of them are capable of more. I liked Helms and he played the lead role well, just the material didn't play to his strengths as well as it suggested it is like it put him between the awkwardness of The Office and the crude slapstick of The Hangover and he didn't sit comfortably between them. Reilly appears to offer the more boisterous side of things but again the film doesn't follow through on what he brings. Heche is a nice touch in casting and works well but Whitlock is wasted; his only contribution of note is to make a great little in-joke where he does an impression of The Wire's Omar (a TV show he was in) it is funny but it is ruined within seconds since the film feels the need to explain the reference to the viewer. Various other faces do solid work without ever having too much to do, so while some are good, the overall feel is that a great cast don't have much to do. This feeling covers Smith, Shawat Corddry, Root and others.
In the end Cedar Rapids is an OK film that never gets close to delivering on anything it puts on the table. It has an odd mix of styles but it doesn't do any of them really well, which leaves a film loaded with recognizable faces and names, none of whom really excel because the script doesn't either. A solid so-so but no more than that.
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