‘Cedar Rapids’: Just a small-town guy…

Cedar Rapids (2011)

Directed by Miguel Arteta

7/10  R

2011 was filled with sleeper hits. “Take Shelter,” “Drive,” and “Margin Call” all snuck under most of America’s radar, but “Cedar Rapids” is probably the funniest movie you didn’t see last year. Tim Lippe, played by Ed Helms, is a small-town Christian insurance professional who’s never left Wisconsin and has an ultra-awkward, clingy relationship with his former elementary teacher (Sigourney Weaver, perfect). When Tim is called upon to represent his small Wisconsin agency in an annual Midwestern insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s put in an uncomfortable position (many, in fact). A few insurance veterans, played by Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., take Tim under their wing, but will they let him succumb to the temptation of the big city?

“Cedar Rapids” knows how silly and irrelevant it may be, but screenwriter Phil Johnston (2012’s “Wreck-it-Ralph,” also starring Reilly) takes a regular story and turns it into a poignant and touching (not to mention raucously entertaining) film. Tim finds rock-bottom (relative to the rest of his life, at least) and then resurfaces from the depths of Cedar Rapids unscuffed. And knowing that what happens there stays there, that’s rough. It’s an everyday peek into the life of an insurance agent, but it’s also utterly original. “Cedar Rapids” takes its most awkward and complicated moments and marinades in them, not backing down. Johnston and director Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”) put a new spin on the light sort of comedy they create here. Who’s surprised, seeing Alexander Payne credited with the rest of the producers? Academy Award-winner Payne (“The Descendents”) is known for his tender comedies.

Tim Lippe is you and me, just a stiff that never branched out from his hometown. He’s as pure as a cucumber untouched by the bitter vinegar of the pickle jar. Ed Helms dials it down from uppity roles in the “Hangover” franchise just enough to pull it off like a pro. If not for the signature smile and daddy hair cut, Helms might even be normal enough to walk down a street unnoticed. As Dean Ziegler, John C. Reilly is “a real Richard head,” as Whitlock’s hysterically clean character Ronald Wilkes would say. But Reilly is just the fast-talking agent type that’s more than fit for the role. Whitlock is a straight-up HBM…a hilarious barrel of monkeys. It won’t be long before he can move on from movies like “Enchanted” and find a home with the likes of Helms and Reilly on the hardcore comedy scene.

You’ll either come away from “Cedar Rapids” in love or shaking your head at the absurdity of it all. But you ought to give yourself the chance to judge it not by its ridiculous poster, but by the contents inside. That’s where the real fun is.

“Cedar Rapids” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

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