Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck, Youth in Revolt) deserves credit for being the only director to yank a decent performance out of Jennifer Aniston in the past decade with The Good Girl. In Cedar Rapids, he provides a straightforward story about a fictional Wisconsin town, Brown Valley, and the heroic turn of its dweeb insurance man, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), who is sent to Cedar Rapids to represent his company at a convention. Lippe soon finds himself mixed up with three veterans of the convention circuit.
Simplistic to the hilt with real-life scenarios, Rapids is not a wacky comedy, but a heartfelt look at a man doing right no matter how messed up things get. Like Fargo, we find corruption amidst the small-time wheeling and dealing - only sans the wood chipper.
Arteta's unassuming style gives the actors room to amuse, while keeping the mood intimate. The hilarity comes out of the mundane rather than the inane, thanks to spot-on performances and a truly original screenplay. Cedar Rapids is often not necessarily funny, but rather realistically cringe inducing. The truthfulness renders a character study of real people who are not embarrassed by themselves, making us want to jump in the screen and explain to them how freaking ridiculous they are.
This top-notch cast really delivers the goods. Helms (The Office/Daily Show), in a terrific performance, eschews comedy "play-acting" and really captures the spirit of a gullible dope. An overweight John C. Reilly as Dean Ziegler is a big lovable lug, all foul mouthed and heart. Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Ronald Wilkes "Ronimo" maintains an even keel, unintentionally channeling his character from The Wire (in which he was Senator Clay Davis and said "sheee-it" a lot.) Anne Heche also appears here as a vulnerable saleswoman.
From dork to insurance man "Super-Hero", Helms' metamorphosis contains some subtle similarities to Sharlto Copely's performance in District 9 (though not as impressive). Lippe's innocence is refreshing and somewhat contagious. The film features just a smidgen of introspection, allowing us all to take a look at ourselves to find the good. Exposing a slice of the heartland, Rapids is a scathing commentary in its own right. At one point, the boss informs Lippe to go out and make the insurance team proud, saying, "I always thought you would go places and then somehow you just didn't."
Well, this flick might not go far, but it certainly covers plenty of emotional high points in its short running time.
Starring Ed Helms, John C Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Directed by Miguel Arteta