A Middle-Aged Sales Rep Goes Wild in Cedar Rapids

A Middle-Aged Sales Rep Goes Wild in <i>Cedar Rapids</i>

Fresh from Sundance, Miguel Arteta’s amiable Cedar Rapids is a mild comedy of embarrassment, set in the dark heart of Middle America and starring sitcom secondario Ed Helms (The Office’s obnoxious angry salesman Andy Bernard) as Tim Lippe, a prematurely middle-aged man-child. Taking an airplane for the first time in his life, the country mouse goes to town: As the most idealistic insurance salesman in Brown River, Wisconsin, Lippe is dispatched by his dyspeptic boss to rep the company at an annual convention in Iowa’s second city, Cedar Rapids.

Do the bright lights bedazzle this teetotaling paradigm of cheerful repression—a big bland hunk of cheese with a ruglike coiffure and toothy, constricted grin? Not quite the 40-year-old virgin that his TV colleague Steve Carell played in 2005, Helm’s nicey-nice Lippe lives out a 12-year-old’s Oedipal fantasy, enjoying a weekly matinee with his old junior high school teacher Mrs. Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver). Still, he’s naïve enough to mistake the solicitation of the corn-fed hooker lurking outside Cedar Rapids’ generic convention hotel for simple friendliness, and sufficiently lacking in savoir faire to be startled speechless upon discovering that he’s bunking with a black man (Isaiah Whitlock Jr., playing against his part on The Wire), who appears to be even more square than he.

Far worse from the standpoint of Lippe’s moral code, the third roomie turns out to be the playboy of the Midwestern world: Dean “Deanzie” Ziegler (John C. Reilly). An irrepressible, loudmouthed vulgarian against whom Lippe has been specifically warned, Deanzie has no compunction with regard to taking a nip at breakfast while the rest of the convened insurance salesmen are holding hands to say grace under the direction of their self-righteous president Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith); like everyone else at the convention, Deanzie communicates in well-worn clichés, although his are a toxic cocktail of sexual innuendo and insinuating barstool bonhomie. (Reilly, whose face here resembles a flayed chunk of tandoori chicken, revels as the designated tempter in the convention’s positive-thinking, officially Christian paradise.)

Big bland hunk of cheese Helms, center, discovers the pleasures of the flesh in Cedar Rapids.
Zade Rosenthal
Big bland hunk of cheese Helms, center, discovers the pleasures of the flesh in Cedar Rapids.

Details

Cedar Rapids
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Fox Searchlight
Opens February 11

With every other joke based on Lippe’s reactions or the reactions those elicit (and the rest based on Helgesson’s hypocritical bromides), Cedar Rapids is something of an extended workplace ensemble-com. It’s actually less discomfiting than either Chuck & Buck or The Good Girl, the cartoonish pair of mad-pash character studies that Arteta directed from Mike White’s scripts in the early ’00s. For all his inchoate yearnings, Lippe never entirely loses control; neither does the movie’s most emotionally complicated character, Anne Heche’s insurance-selling good-time gal, with whom Lippe finds himself partnered in the convention’s get-acquainted scavenger hunt. Their date escalates from Japanese food to crashing a lesbian wedding to drunkenly jumping in the hotel pool, and more. The humiliating spectacle of male infantilism peaks with Lippe’s paralyzed morning-after episode, replete with hysterical phone call to Mrs. Vanderhei.

Time to man up. “Welcome to the jungle, Timbo,” Deanzie congratulates Lippe when the Brown River innocent realizes that not everything in Cedar Rapids is as kosher as it might seem. The insurance man’s education—which, as a bonus to the viewer, includes one last crystal-meth bacchanal—makes for some lively farce before the obligatory cringe-inducing Capra-worthy closer.

 
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5 comments
Krisric
Krisric

@ staalhjerte, I once lived in NYC and shared a similar ignorant attitude towards the Midwest. Sadly, your banter only reflects how insecure you've become as a result of being lost among those who are actually "making it".

Eddiezr
Eddiezr

Hyper sensitive over educated mid westerners are the new Blacks -- Always the butt of the joke and happy to be it... C'mon, you know damn well that anything worthwhile and attractive starts on the coasts and only after it's been dispersed on TV do the "Middlings" get to the party. The party is over by then, but they just don't know the difference. Deal with that, y'aaall.

Staalhjerte
Staalhjerte

A great dark farce of the Midwest, oops I mean Flyover "heartland" ha ha. I think the city of Cedar Rapids will be very grateful for some much needed publicity.

T. Bagger Vance
T. Bagger Vance

I take it you've never watched "The Office," then. Andy Bernard's character is the direct opposite of the obnoxious, angry salesman you describe. He's goofy, funny, romantic and clueless. But nice try.

I also love phrases like "the dark heart of Middle America," which I'm sure resonates with a lot of big city libtards whose idea of flyover-country is some kind of teabagger caricature. That's the kind of humor that makes "30 Rock" so friggin' hilarious, it is rumored that somebody who lives left of Albany once cracked a grin.

Serious Lee
Serious Lee

Simply because this country's media "distribution centers" and areas of population density are generally located on either coast, these factors have no bearing on where "attractive and worthwhile" comes from (by the way, hypersensitive, overeducated and midwesterners are all one word. It would seem you are either from a coast and not associated with the "attractive or worthwhile" or you probably would have known that.). If you take the time to actually research a concept prior to forming and voicing an opinion, you'll find that the majority of "Hollywood and Broadway Types" are immigrants from other parts of the country (and world). Also, the day writers on either coast produce are able to produce a script that is original or simply not a direct rewrite of a somone elses work should cause Hollywood and/or Broadway to shut down for a day and hold a parade in their honor. Deal with that ... y'all.

 

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