Cedar Rapids review by Tom Blain
Over ten years ago I saw a small budget comedy in the theatres... three times. That's right I spent money to see it the first time with some friends, saw it a second time with some friends and even went there a third time with a date (a scarcity in my college days). Why did I see it three times? Obviously I found it funny. Not in the way that you would find a Will Ferrell film funny, but it had a comic realism to it. The movie was about as close to real life as you could get; set in the burbs, little to no glammer, and it was about working stiffs and their mundane lives. But it had a good energy to it, and it made me want to go back and revisit the laughs. Another reason I saw it was because it was released early in the year when there was nothing worth seeing in the theatres. That movie: Office Space. Obviously no one else went through the experience I did at that time or else it wouldn't be brought up as "a movie that couldn't cover its own costs in theatres but blew up when it was released on video." Im bringing up my experience with Office Space because I had a very similar and equally enjoyable experience when I saw Cedar Rapids.
Much like Office Space, Cedar Rapids follows a worker bee Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), but this time in a small town insurance firm. Tim has the daunting task of heading to an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids and giving a "wow" presentation that will get earn his firm the prestigious "Two Diamonds" award. This might not be a daunting task for many but Tim is a rube. He has never traveled and is filling the shoes of the firms now deceased all-star. He is very small town and with that comes a set of established untainted ideals that he places on the small town world around him.
Tim himself receives a bit of well-natured tainting from some of his fellow conventioneers, mainly Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly at his comic peek). Ziegler (who Tim was warned about by his boss) is a crass, blowhard, drink hard, party animal whose moments on screen are each unique gems. This part feels like it could have easily been Will Ferrell's but as Reilly has proven in the past five years, he can play in the lower levels of comedy and hit homers just as well as anyone. The other point of corruption in Tim's life is Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche, who is surprisingly enjoyable) who flirts up a timid Tim despite her wife and kids at home. Her character has shades of Vera Farmiga's character in Up in the Air. It's the adventures that this unlikely group spend together in and out of the modest Midwestern hotel that make the film completely enjoyable. Nothing is extravagant and outrageous or beyond the means that these characters. It all seems reminiscent of a good party we could have all been privy to.
On a political level, Cedar Rapids does what it can to break down and dispel any myths of small town goodness. One by one, all external things Tim holds near and dear to his heart begin turning into lies and deceit. Tim's preconceived notions regarding his boss, the lives of co-workers, how awards are won at the convention and even his future with his much older girlfriend/ex-school teacher (Sigourney Weaver) are all turned upside down. Tim is in many ways a general representation of an American public that is increasingly pessimistic about the institutions of larger business or more precisely the executives above them. He begins the movie as a trusty liege but slowly realizes if he wants things to work on the level as he sees fit, he will have to grow up and take the reins himself. Thankfully the film doesn't leave the main street in the dumps like other sardonic films might. Instead, it reveals that it takes single people like Tim to uphold these principles to keep them going even as others look towards corruption.
Cedar Rapids is the type of film you hope finds a wider audience. Its been in the theatres, as I write this review, for over a month but judging by where its playing hasnt had a very wide release. At some point, I have faith that more people will see this movie and enjoy it as much as I did. Like Office Space hopefully it may have a brighter after its release on DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming video, etc.
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