“…I thought ‘now here’s a kid who is gonna go places,’ and somehow… you just didn’t.”
And thus begins the classic hero’s journey for callow insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms of “The Hangover” and TV’s “The Office), the protagonist of “Cedar Rapids,” the criminally under seen film from director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl” and “Youth in Revolt”). After the star salesman in Lippe’s office freakishly dies, Lippe is called to action as a last minute replacement to represent his company at a sales conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Having never left his hometown, Lippe is forced to leave behind his worldly comforts, including a physical relationship with his former junior high school teacher, played by Sigourney Weaver (if you need me to list a film starring Weaver, then you’re a f*cking philistine).
The main goal Tim Lippe ‘s quest involves gaining the coveted “Two Diamonds Award,” given to salesmen who display moral, “Christian” ideals. Things become complicated when Lippe befriends Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly, check his imdb page), a recently divorced party animal who encourages Lippe to fight the hypocrisy of the conference’s moral ideals. “Church and insurance are separate!” Lippe’s moral compass is further challenged when he finds himself attracted to Joan (Anne Heche, yes, THAT Anne Heche), a fellow insurance seller who uses the weekend conference to forget the husband and kids that wait for her back home. Heche brings a wonderfully sad and understated performance to the proceedings, nicely contrasting Reilly’s Zeigler and Isiah Whitlock Jr’s Ronald Wilkes, the most mature member of the team. Wilkes manages to play Ronald as droll yet completely believable, which is one of the film’s main strengths and what sets “Cedar Rapids” towers above other comedies this year.
Director Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnson wisely let the plot and humor of this film unfold naturally through it’s characters. Not a single moment or line of dialogue feels false, but more importantly it gives these characters heart and likability. You root for Lippe and despite yourself, you wish you had friends like his. After her second viewing of the film, my better half asked me if the movie did well enough at the box office to merit a sequel. I told her that it hadn’t and she sighed and said “That’s too bad. I would have liked to see these people again.”
“Cedar Rapids” is on DVD and Blu-Ray. Buy several copies, support good cinema.