Friday, February 11, 2011

Movie with Abe: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Released February 11, 2011

Every once in a while, a little gem of an independent comedy comes along. Often there’s a semi-famous star attached, who might have done notable television work and also be breaking into big-budget comedy film at the same time. In recent years, “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno” have been sparking examples of this kind of film, and “Cedar Rapids” is the latest to join them in the ranks of surprisingly heartwarming and entertaining cinema. Ed Helms, star of NBC’s “The Office” and one of the four buddies in “The Hangover,” stars as Tim Lippe, just about the nicest and most genuine insurance salesman you’re ever likely to meet.

It’s hardly a stretch to compare Helms to another actor from “The Office,” Steve Carell, who snagged his first leading film role in Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Both comedians play quiet, mild-mannered, well-intentioned men with awkward social skills and a naive sense of trust in others who desire to manipulate them. Instead of a forty-year-old man who has never had sex, Lippe is a polite, childlike gentleman who has never ventured out of his small town. Circumstances propel him via plane for the first time to the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he must face the world at an insurance convention.

The simple premise of “Cedar Rapids” lends itself to colorful characters and understated comedy, which mesh well to form an enthralling tale of one man’s exposure to more than just what’s contained in his little bubble. Assembled around the wonderfully sedated and charming Helms is a magnificent cast whose standout is an energetic and inappropriate John C. Reilly as fellow salesman Dean Ziegler. Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche are fun as less ferocious convention attendees who also bond with Lippe, and Kurtwood Smith and Alia Shawkat provide entertainment as the convention’s tyrannical chair and a local prostitute. The cast is fresh and fun, and all are performing at their best.

It’s not right to group “Cedar Rapids” in with fare produced by Judd Apatow since there’s considerably more heart and spark to this than the typical already-above-average film like “Knocked Up” or “Superbad.” The surprise about this film is that it’s just as funny as those, though it sneaks up on its audience with its unexpectedly vulgar tendencies, most of which comes from Reilly’s Ziegler. There’s something very accessible about the film that makes it all the more enjoyable. It teeters on the verge of ridiculous every once in a while, but, for the most part, it’s a tempered and winning mature comedy.


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