Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Movie Review: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids ***
Directed by:
Miguel Arteta.
Written by: Phil Johnston.
Starring: Ed Helms (Tim Lippe), John C. Reilly (Dean Ziegler), Anne Heche (Joan Ostrowski-Fox), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Ronald Wilkes), Stephen Root (Bill Krogstad), Kurtwood Smith (Orin Helgesson), Alia Shawkat (Bree), Rob Corddry (Gary), Mike O'Malley (Mike Pyle), Sigourney Weaver (Macy Vanderhei).

I learned a few years ago not to simply saying that I am an accountant when I meet someone for the first time. Saying you’re an accountant is a good way to make someone eyes glaze over, and scan the room for someone else to talk to. I assume it is the same for insurance salesman. Everyone needs insurance, just like everyone at one point or another, needs an accountant, but you don’t really want to hang out with them. That helps to explain why Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is so meek and shy in this movie. He is helpful and nice, but he sells insurance and is for the most part alone. He has starting sleeping with his old sixth grade teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver), and has made the relationship into more than it actually is. But overall, Tim seems like a nice guy – the kind of guy you want selling you insurance, but you don’t want to hang out with.

But then Tim gets an assignment that he never expected – he is to go the Cedar Rapids to attend the weekend seminar of ASMI – what ASMI stands for I don’t remember, but it is for Mid-West Insurance salesmen. The top dog at his small outfit in Wisconsin has just died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and they need Tim to go there, and win the prestigious Two Diamonds award.

You may expect that a conference for Insurance Salesmen, especially for insurance salesmen from the Midwest, would be dull and boring. But perhaps because Insurance Salesmen are always seen as dull and boring by everyone they meet, and now they finally get to be with a huge group of other people who are actually interested in insurance, the ASMI conference is anything but dull.

Cedar Rapids, directed by Miguel Arteta who is a veteran of directing episodes of The Office, has the same sort of feel as that TV series. The comedy in the film comes from situations that would be painfully awkward in real life, but that you cannot help but laugh at in the movies. A lot of it comes from Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) – a salesman from Minnesota, who insists on being called “Deansy”, drinks way too much, hits on everything that moves, without every actually doing anything about it, and is generally one of those guys who you initially hate, but gradually he wins you over. A lot of it also comes from Helms himself – so great on The Office and in The Hangover – who excels at playing characters who are trying so hard to stay positive, even when everything is falling down around them. The support cast is excellent – including Isaiah Whitlock Jr., who is the buttoned down Ron, a mild mannered African American salesman, who does an excellent Omar from the HBO series The Wire and Anne Heche, a married mother of two, who plays the hot girl every year at this convention. The rest of the cast – Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawcat, Mike O’Malley and Stephen Root included – play their small roles quite well, and help to round out the cast.

I highly doubt that even the wildest insurance conventions end up being as wild as this one does for Tim. Yet, I don’t doubt that for men and women who spend their year being the responsible insurance salesmen that their clients expect, that they would cut loose to a certain degree like the characters in this movie do. No one is really who they pretend to be at this convention – not even Deansy. For Tim, the weekend is a liberating experience – he decides that he will not be trampled over any longer, and that he has respect for himself, and for his profession, and gosh darn it, he’s going to stand up for that. How he gets there – through an alcohol, sex and at one point even crack filled weekend – makes Cedar Rapids one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a while.

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