Review by Lisa Giles-Keddie
‘WE’RE all just selling something’ is the weighty moral of Youth In Revolt director Miguel Arteta’s new coming-of-age comedy… and without the intriguing (and unlikely) pairing of Ed Helms and John C. Reilly it could be argued that marketing a film about a naïve insurance salesman from small-town, Midwest America who discovers himself on a business trip would be a hard sell in itself.
But Cedar Rapids has that endearing indie ingredient: the triumph of the underdog. And who better than The Hangover star Helms to take the helm in this buddy story, what with the anticipated forthcoming sequel out in May?
Cedar Rapids is not only Helms ‘warm up’ act to the former, but also a solid leading-man effort as he plays 34-year-old insurance agent Tim Lippe, a man who has worked in insurance all his life and who has never left his tiny home-town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin.
After the controversial death of his company’s top salesman, however, Tim must travel to the ‘hotbed of debauchery’, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual ASMI insurance convention, with the aim of winning the coveted ‘two-diamonds’ award that his company has bagged three years in a row.
However, even though it’s all smiles, hearty backslaps and fun team-building exercises, something rotten lies at its core, and it takes the distraction of a trio of convention veterans (played by Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to make a real man out of by-the-book Tim, as well as expose the convention’s uglier side.
Helms comfortably takes on the kind of good-hearted geek role we normally associate with Steve Carell, as Tim is merely a 30-something clone of Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin, a lovable man-child full of virtue.
As such a character is a rarity in today’s jaded world, there’s always something appealing about getting to see the world still seen through child-like eyes.
But for the immature humour in this film to work, though, it requires reminiscing back to the deviant glee of the classroom innocent finally getting their hands dirty.
Arteta doesn’t just put Tim up for ridicule, though, and gives him a strong set of values that make him more layered than first depicted.
In fact, as Tim is the ‘immature kid’ – as highlighted by his odd and slightly uncomfortable sexual relationship with his former teacher, Ms Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver) – we tend to forgive him more as he spins off the rails.
Indeed, Arteta’s character isn’t that different from other small-town, wide-eyed ones of past films (including Steve Zahn’s unforgettable role in Management), but he has a disarming charm and a refreshing lack of baggage, so is content with his lot and very easy to like. And Helms expertly brings out his silly, serious and fearful side as he encounters the pitfalls of ‘adult’ life.
But Cedar Rapids is by no means a one-man show, as Arteta has again developed a set of quirky characters that we can really get behind, as they experience their own personal highs and lows.
Reilly, Heche and Whitlock Jr. do, to some extent, play character types we’ve seen from them before, but are clearly playing to their strengths.
Reilly is loud, brash ‘Ziegler’, who’s nursing a broken heart, Heche is independent (but married), adventurous and smart Joan ‘O Fox’ Ostrowski-Fox who is charmed by Tim, and Whitlock Jr. is the voice of reason. Ironically, it’s their evolution that’s arguably more interesting than Tim’s as they re-invent themselves.
Cedar Rapids isn’t without decadent running jokes and low-brow, smutty antics but these are offset by moments of sobering clarity, which means that you’ll not be disappointed with Arteta’s oddball bunch of characters and will find yourself rooting for one and all, even through the end credits!
For this is, at the end of the day, a crowd-pleaser that may not be Arteta’s defining piece, but one that’s feel-good in nature and with a big enough heart to bolster your spirits.
Running time: 87mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 19, 2011