The best way I can describe Cedar Rapids, the wonderful new comedy by not-for-everyone director Mike Arteta (The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt), is to say it’s like Happy-Go-Lucky for guys. From me, that’s a compliment. Maybe a better way to describe it would be 40yo Virgin meets Election? Or Up in the Air for non-assholes? Office Space meets Ugly Betty Season 1? Ugh, I’m no Hollywood adjective hag, but trust me, it’s good. Really good. Not like 100% AMAZINGPERFECT, but it’s damn close. DAMN close. At a light-and-punchy 87 minutes, it tells the story of Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), who takes his very first trip away from home to a Christian-flavored insurance-salesperson conference in Cedar Rapids, only discover the pain and ecstasy of life outside the nest. If you’re gagging on my twee-nis right now, I understand. But when something’s done right, it’s done right.
Tim is a sheltered and trusting soul–a shy and nerdy insurance salesman in Brown Valley USA. His fuckbuddy is his middle school teacher, Mrs. Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), and he is WAY more into their relationship than she is. He’s very dedicated to his job at Brownstar Insurance (LOLZ), but not as dedicated as his asshole coworker Roger (Thomas Lennon in a performance that the shitwadz at IMDB somehow missed); but, when Roger dies in an autoerotic asphyxiation cumtastrophe, Tim’s boss Bill (Stephen Root) asks him to represent the company at the big conference.
Tim takes his very first flight to Cedar Rapids, and checks into a hotel for the very first time (Mike Birbiglia is the guy at the hotel desk!). There he finds the convention in full swing, and it’s all kind of terrifying. His assigned roommates are an African-American closet case named Ronald (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and a loud-mouth-drunk-skeezbag named Dean (the always-poignant mess from Heaven, John C. Reilly). With a lot of cajoling, Tim dips his toe, and then everything else, into the swill pond of corporate-retreat-as-Spring-Break culture that I guess exists for normal people who aren’t me or you guys.
Along the way he befriends Ronald and Dean, along with the DIVINELY flirtatious Joan (Anne Heche) and the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-and-mouth-of-meth-smoke, Bree (Alia Shawkat). By letting his guard down, he begins to see what’s beautiful about being an adult in America (sex, booze, Japanese food), and perhaps more importantly, what’s ugly about it (infidelity, hypocrisy, greed).
Maybe this sounds too simple to be good, or too trad to be new. But, not enough can be said for the power of good acting, which in comedies, is all-too-rare. The cast of Cedar Rapids puts on a show that is so tempered and expert that watching them do just about anything (take shots, go on a scavenger hunt, sit in a park) is as entertaining as it is not-annoying. Major shout-outs to comedy vets Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Stephen Root for delivering performances that are way better than they needed to be; and Anne Heche (love her or fear her or don’t understand her or don’t care about her) is just fantastic as a well-rounded, modern woman with a bunch of different thoughts in her brain and heart.
This movie plays with earnestness in a way that’s not new necessarily–think the brilliance that is Steve Carell in pretty much everything–but is incredibly sweet and never goes too far in any one direction. For example, in his first moments in the shitty hotel that will house the rest of the movie, Ed Helms exclaims with actual joy, “the whole place smells like Chlorine, it’s like being in Barbados or something!” Aw.
If you’re a fan of mainstream comedy or alternative comedy or romantic comedy or old-fashioned comedy, there’s something in here that’ll make you laugh, and something else that’ll make you “hmm.” This shit’s not gonna change the world, but a good movie is a good movie.
So, good job!