This year has gotten off to kind of a slow start in terms of quality comedies. Fortunately, “Cedar Rapids” is here to save the day. Hot off the screens of Sundance Film Festival, it is the first quality comedy of 2011. It packs a slew of down-to-earth characters that are instantly likeable, but at the same time gives their mouths a bit of vulgarity for some shock factor and laughs.
Tim Lippe(Ed Helms of “The Hangover” and a regular on NBC’s The Office) works for BrownStar Insurance in a small rural town in Wisconsin. Honest and idealistic, he’s straightforward with his customers and has gained a loyal customer base. However, another agent(an uncredited Thomas Lennon) gets all the attention as the face for BrownStar’s television commercials. The showboating agent also attends an insurance convention each year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but when the agent scandalously becomes incapacitated, Tim must fill his shoes and make the trip.
Tim’s boss(Stephen Root) is depending on him to win the Two Diamond award, a prize that Brownstar has won the past two years. To do that, he needs to impress the president of the association(Kurtwood Smith, who quite a few may know as Red Foreman from That 70s Show) with a presentation. His boss also warns him to steer clear of Dean Ziegler, a rival agent accused of poaching one of BrownStar’s customers.
While Helms is funny as Lippe, it’s the other people he meets in Cedar Rapids that really add to the film. John C. Reilly is consistently funny as Ziegler, and while his dialogue is often crass there are additional layers to the character. Anne Heche plays Joan Ostrowski-Fox, a somewhat free-spirit that may only possess such a trait when she’s away from home. One of the real gems of the film is the character of Ronald Wilkes(Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Laid back and more soft-spoken, Ronald is the yin to Ziegler’s yang, and the combination just works. One of the single funniest moments comes near the end of the film, when Ziegler comments on Ronald’s style of joke-telling.
Probably one of the most remarkable things about “Cedar Rapids” is that for a comedy, it is never once mean-spirited. The film offers a group of people who instantly accept each other for who they are, so the script doesn’t have to rely on anyone playing the fool. These people are free to be who they are, and the laughter flows naturally from that. If everybody in the insurance game was like Dean Ziegler and Ronald Wilkes, I think many viewers would consider a career change. These people would be a lot of fun to spend time with, and so is this film.
“Cedar Rapids” is currently playing at the Regal 21 & IMAX in Lincolnshire and the AMC 30 in South Barrington, IL.