Review: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids | Miguel Arteta, 2011

The way I see it, when you have a job you have to do it with pleasure, even if you are doing this for the money. If you don’t then you just might end up blowing your brains out, and you will not give a pleasant experience to those around you and those that depend on your services. I see people like that every day. I go to a checkout lane at a store and the cashier has a “how long until I get off” look.

When you are something bigger than a cashier, like an insurance agent, and you have a job that people’s livelihoods may depend on, it is even more true that you have to do your job not only with pleasure, but remember that it is not all about you. This is what Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids is about at its core. Despite the fact that it is sometimes silly, it gets its point across and ends up being an extremely pleasant and fun movie, which I did not expect.

Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe an insurance agent for a small company called Brown Star Insurance. The company has won the “Two Diamonds” award three years in a row, which signifies that it is a company that strives to be helpful to the community and is truthful to Christian values. After the unexpected death of the top agent at the company, it is Tim’s turn to attempt to win the “Two Diamonds” at the annual ASI conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And so, our fish-out-of-water story begins as he is thrown into the rather dirty competition for the award and meets a set of unique characters: Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a foul-mouthed salesman that Tim is told should be avoided but ends up being his roommate, Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), a naughty but wise agent whose annual Cedar Rapids trip ends up being like a vacation, Ronald Wilkes (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.), a calm agent always ready to tell a cheesy joke as well as an aficionado for the HBO program “The Wire”, and Bree (Alia Shawkat), a prostitute that will teach him to live a little.

I don’t have many complaints about this movie, but I do have a few that I have to point out. One of them is the humor. Ultimately it works, as it involves that type of humor that can you expect when people who work in an office all day get together for what is pretty much a vacation: naughty humor. It is mostly used by the people who had been there before, and we see how === is reluctant to use it at first. It’s just that sometimes it gets too distracting. But like I said, it works.

My other complaint is that too much time is used on superfluous characters. Like Sigourney Weaver’s character, Macy Vanderhel. She is great in it, and the character is a big part of the main character’s life. But when it was all said and done, it was an unnecessary character. Besides that, it is a really good movie.

The script, besides the flaws that I just pointed out, is generally great. It has fun dialogue, some great humor (the last part of the party scene is hilarious), fully realized characters, and it has a lot of heart. This last part is what makes it stand out, as it offers an honest look at what jobs should be all about. It is a not so subtle, but clever slam of big insurance companies.

Miguel Arteta does a fine job of translating this to the screen by making it into a quirky, lightweight, and fun film without any sense of grandure. It has that look and feel of an Alexander Payne film, from the rough but pleasant cinematography to the rather excellent score by Christophe Beck. Well, Payne produced this, so Arteta probably did it on purpose.

The performances are another thing that makes this movie really good. Ed Helms pretty much plays Andy from “The Office”, but that’s okay. John C. Reilly is a ton of fun in his foul-mouthed character, but like Helm, it’s nothing he hasn’t done before. Anne Heche gives a good and natural performance (and my god, she looks hot in this). There are also good supporting turns from Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root, and Alia Shawkat. But the standout is Whitlock. He is so good at playing the quirky and mild-mannered guy who ends up surprising everyone when he gets everyone out of serious trouble by evoking Omar from the wire. That is the best scene in the film, and it is all thanks to him.

Cedar Rapids is one of the best movies of the year so far. It won’t end up in my top 10 of the year (unless it is a really weak year), but it was a pleasant and earnest movie that I’m glad I watched. If you want to watch a movie during a hot summer afternoon in the comfort of your home that will not challenge you intellectually and will give you a few good laughs, then I highly recommend this.

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