Life in the provinces might be limiting, but at least it’s cozy. There’s no better face to express this than Ed Helms’, who is best known as the American The Office’s Andy Bernard. In Cedar Rapids, he plays Tim Lippe, an earnest and somewhat credulous insurance salesman, whose naiveté is cruelly dismantled when he is sent to the annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on a mission to win the company’s Two Diamond Award for his branch office.
At first focusing on small town Tim’s encounter with the big metropolis – chatting amicably with the local hooker trying to pick up conventioneers, marveling at the Ramada-Inn-architecture of their hotel – Cedar Rapids quickly becomes a poignant observation of the lives of people who have never had a better moment than their high school senior year, which they try to repeat at the convention by playing drinking games, going on scavenger hunts and participating in a talent contest.
In the end, only Tim is really able to rise above those limitations while staying true to himself. Although they seem so much more worldly, wily and experienced, Tim’s colleagues are obviously just using those precious few days to leave their dreary home lives behind and let it all hang out, especially a very fresh Heche as the attractive Joan, whose character is closely related to Up in the Air’s Alex.
So while the laughs – often crude, but delivered with the kind of timing for which Reilly and Weaver are guarantees – pile up, it doesn’t take long to feel bad for laughing at the expense of people who never really had a chance. Luckily, scriptwriter Phil Johnston, in his first theatrical release, fashions an ending in which everyone gets what they deserve.
Cedar Rapids | Directed by Miguel Arteta (USA 2011) with Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver. Opens July 7