Written By: Phil Johnston
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche
“Cedar Rapids” has the feeling of a piece of crystal- pretty and delicate, but as if one good shake would shatter it. It’s not a hearty comedy, or a particularly memorable one, but it has a sweetness and gentleness that’s unexpected.
Perhaps the most important revelation I got from Cedar Rapids was that Ed Helms could make an entire career just using his toothy smile. He puts it to good use in the movie as Tim Lippe, a small-town insurance agent who goes to a yearly insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tim is sweet-natured man-child, with a bowl-cut and a vaguely creepy relationship with his former grade school teacher (a fabulous Sigourney Weaver). He’s never left his town, so comparatively Cedar Rapids is the big city, and he quickly falls in with some conference veterans, who are the grown-up version of what the cool kids in high school.
Helms is a careful comedian- he takes pains to make sure that Tim isn’t turned into one big hick joke, which can’t have been an easy feat. Tim is not just a punchline, he’s a relatable human being who could actually exist in real life. Though his childlike innocence at the surface seems ridiculous, his refusal to acknowledge, say, the fact that his former teacher probably doesn’t want to marry him, is more common than we’d like to think. We all want to see the pretty side of life, even long after we’ve traveled on a plane and seen humanity at its darkest hour.
John C. Reilly takes charge of most of the bigger laughs as conference pro Dean Ziegler, that guy you know who likes to drink too much at professional events and give everyone nicknames whether they want one or not. Anne Heche is lovely and funny as a brassy married woman who uses the annual conference as a getaway from her real life. And best of all is Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (a.k.a. Clay Davis on HBO’s “The Wire”) as a mild-mannered insurance agent…who is very fond of HBO’s “The Wire”.
“Cedar Rapids” is primarily about a man being confronted with some of the world’s ugliness and refusing to let it kill his innocence. It’s gentle and frequently very funny. But what’s curious about “Cedar Rapids” is why, in a movie where so much works, is it ultimately forgettable? This is one of the more difficult reviews for me to write, simply because I didn’t have much to say. I enjoyed myself in the theater, but the second I walked out it had gone completely out of my head. This is perhaps the problem with creating gentle movies- without the punch you run the danger of fading like a wisp of smoke in a hurricane. “Cedar Rapids” got me, but it couldn’t hold me. Crystal might be pretty to look at- but it often doesn’t stand the tests of time.