Cedar Rapids tells the timeless tale of a quiet, nervous little man learning how to gain self-confidence and navigate the world through the ample application of sex, drugs, and parody songs. Blending intrigue, comedy, and coming-of-age, this movie leaves audiences laughing and confused.
Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, a mild-mannered insurance salesman who, due to the death of a colleague in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident, is sent to a conference in Cedar Rapids. His company has won the Two Diamonds award several years running, and it is all on him to keep things going. Through the help of his friend and conference roommate, Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), plague/conference roommate/party animal/eventual friend, Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), and hook-up and (hot lady) friend Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), Tim learns how to stand up for himself and take charge of his life.
This process involves karaoke, alcohol, drugs, becoming friends with a prostitute (Alia Shawkat), and going on many wacky adventures. Because it is Ed Helms, it’s hard not to make comparisons with the Hangover, but where that movie reveled in drunken debauchery, this one attempts to create a sweet story of friendship and coming into one’s own.
The thing is, as much as this movie had going for it, I am not so sure that another “man-child becomes real-man thanks to vaginas and beer” story is what America really needs right now. All of the primary actors (Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) seem like really nice, stand up guys, and so I am willing to buy this story more than most. At its core, however, this indie comedy is another bromance, this time wrapped in a nice Midwestern package.
The movie’s charm comes not from the success of Tim Lippe in becoming the man he always wished he could be. It comes from the basic acceptance that all the main characters show towards each other, it comes from the Midwestern vibe, it comes from the sincerity of Tim’s relationships. There is a truth to getting the girl, but only for a night. There is a truth to coming out of a new experience with nothing more than a new direction and some friends. There is a truth to a drunken weekend that doesn’t leave its participants with facial tattoos or tigers.
When I see a movie I really love, I want to own the movie, like most people. I’m not unique here. When I see one I really hate, I want to own it just so I can intentionally lose it. It’s sort of an “I hate you so much I will not destroy you, but damn it, you will never darken the doors of my apartment again.” Weird, I know, but that’s how it goes. When it comes to Cedar Rapids, it’s not a movie that I would ever try to own, but if it fell into my lap one day, I wouldn’t passive-aggressively leave it at the bus stop. It’s pleasant and just quirky enough to be interesting, but not so much that it’s cloying. And hey, it even had some Star Wars references.