Helms, Reilly Shine in ‘Cedar Rapids’ - Best Film So Far in 2011 (****)

Monday, February 21, 2011
By Kevin Crossman

Though it might at first glance appear that Ed Helms’ new film Cedar Rapids is mining familiar territory, this is no “Hangover 1.5.” Director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt) crafts a heartwarming film filed with pleasant characters in a setting you’ve never seen before. Ed Helms is superb as a naive insurance salesman who grows from manchild to adult over the course of a long weekend. John C. Reilly is once again outstanding in a pivotal role as fellow insurance saleman and the actor doing the heavy lifting comedy-wise. Overall, Cedar Rapids is an enjoyable and unique experience that is the best film so far in 2011.

Isiah Whitlock, Jr, John C. Reilly, and Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

Isiah Whitlock, Jr, John C. Reilly, and Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

Helms plays Tim Lippe, a small town insurance agent who’s parents died early and who has never been outside his small Wisconsin town. When the star insurance salesman played by Thomas Lennon unexpectedly dies and his boss busy with his daughter’s wedding, Tim is tapped to represent the firm at an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Stephen Root plays Lippe’s boss, Bill Krogstad who initially expresses confidence that Tim can bring home the coveted “Two Star Diamond” award that the firm has won three years in succession. And, importantly, Bill warns Tim to stay away from “poacher” Dean Ziegler.

Much is made early in the film of Tim’s apprehension of traveling to “such a big city” as Cedar Rapids (a joke that probably plays better on the coasts than in the heartland). Here, Helms really dials down the personality seen on The Office and even in The Hangover. An early scene showing Tim having sex with his former babysitter (Sigourney Weaver) is typical in showing how sheltered he really is. There’s more awkward comedy as Tim arrives at the hotel, wide eyed and innocent. Tim initially freaks out at seeing his roommate for the convention, Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr), who is perhaps the first black man Tim has ever seen.

It’s clear early, though, that Wilkes is polite and trustworthy. The same cannot be said for Ziegler, played with aplomb by John C. Reilly. Sporting a mild mannered appearance and a fine Wisconsin accent, Reilly is truly outstanding as the “devil” to the “angel” played by Whitlock. Phil Johnston’s script is never more enjoyable than the scenes with Tim, Dean, and Ronald and how they approach the convention experience in different ways.

Tim must meet one-on-one with the Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith, creepy as ever) who is the President of the insurance organization holding the convention in order to secure the Two Diamond Award. There’s a very funny scene with the two characters’ first meeting in a locker room. Another person Tim meets is Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), another conventioneer who seems more interested in “networking” than selling insurance. The complicated courting of Tim and Joan is well constructed by the filmmakers.

Anne Heche and Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

Anne Heche and Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

Arteta does a great job letting the actors stretch, and the situations alternate between outrageous and heartwarming. A subplot featuring the town’s local hooker Bree (Alia Shawkat) is an example of a side trip that is most enjoyable and often surprising. Through it all, Helms is the glue that holds the entire movie together. The subtlety of the performance is compelling in a way that could have been in insulting to midwesterners, but instead is more than a little inspiring. Cedar Rapids also features a great cameo from Rob Corddry, and falters only slightly with some fairly predictable plot developments at the end of the film.

If you’re looking for a great time with some fun characters and you’re up for a little life-lesson in friendship then Cedar Rapids is a no risk policy.

4

Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids

The Cast of Cedar Rapids

The Cast of Cedar Rapids

One Response to “Helms, Reilly Shine in ‘Cedar Rapids’ - Best Film So Far in 2011 (****)”

  1. tom P

    I have wanted to see this since I first saw the trailer a couple of months ago. I sure hope it gets a wide enough release for me to see it down here in Raleigh. I love Reilly & Helms obviously, and shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit…..Senator Clay Davis is always a delight, as my fellow The Wire fans will attest to.

    #8939

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