Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids is the story of a naïve insurance salesman who becomes a last-minute replacement to attend a regional conference to win a prestigious prize. At the conference, he befriends a wild bunch of insurance agents where they reveal about the dark world of the insurance business. Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Alia Shawkat, Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root, and Sigourney Weaver. Cedar Rapids is a heartwarming yet very funny comedy from Miguel Arteta.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is an insurance agent from a small town who holds an idealism about taking care of his customers and earning their trust. While he’s also having an affair with his former schoolteacher Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), Tim lives a comfortable yet sheltered life. When a fellow agent named Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon) had suddenly died, Tim’s boss Bill Krogstad needs Tim to go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a regional conference to make presentation for ASMI president Orrin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith) in hopes for another award for the company. Tim goes to Cedar Rapids where he shares a room with the kind African-American agent Ronald Wilkes (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and the more brash Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) whom Krogstad wants Tim to stay away from.
Tim also meets Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) as he learns about the rough-and-tumble world of the insurance game. While getting to know Ronald, Dean, and Joan, Tim also befriends a young prostitute named Bree (Alia Shawkat) as he and Joan win a scavenger hunt as they would join Ronald and Dean for drinks and partying. Yet, the party gets a little out of control with Tim after sleeping with the already-married Joan as Tim finds himself trouble with Orrin as he is set to make a big presentation for the Four Diamonds award. Joan would reveal some dark secrets to Tim about Lemke and how he won the awards as Tim refuses to believe what Joan says.
With Dean giving him some advice, Tim would do something to win over Orrin where he realizes what he had done. After going to a rowdy party with Bree, Tim learns what Krogstad is going to do forcing Tim to make some big moves with the help from his new friends.
The film is a comedy about a small town insurance agent whose idealism is tested when he becomes a last-minute replacement for another agent at a very prestigious regional conference. There, he would explore some of the dark secrets of the insurance game along with some people who share his ideals despite their much looser personalities. The film is a coming-of-age story of sorts of a how a young man who learns about what to do in the insurance game though he is someone that just wants to do good for those in his small town and make sure they can trust him. Phil Johnston’s screenplay does play to a bit of formula but its big success is in fleshing out the characters as well as developing them. Notably the Tim Lippe character as it’s his story that is told with some bawdy humor but also some intriguing insight into the world of the insurance business.
Miguel Arteta’s direction is superb as a lot of the presentation is straightforward yet engaging. From the way he shoots a lot of the interiors of the hotel early on to the way he presents some of the film’s humorous moments. The latter of which is done with a lot of improvisation as well as getting the actors set for the frame. The way the actors are directed in their approach to the frame as well as giving them relaxed and lively performance is among one of Arteta’s strengths as a filmmaker. He’s not afraid to put them in uncomfortable situations or tense moments while finding some way to make sure the humor comes off naturally. Overall, Arteta creates a very solid and witty film about a man coming of age in the insurance business world.
Cinematographer Chuy Chavez does a nice job with the film‘s very colorful cinematography that is filled with stylish lighting set-ups for many of the film‘s interior settings while utilizing more naturalistic shots for the film‘s day and nighttime exterior settings where a lot of it is shot in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Editor Erick Kassick does a very good job with the editing by utilizing some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s humorous moments including a wonderful montage scene late in the film. Production designer Doug J. Meerdink, along with set decorator Jeanette Scott and art director Rob Simons, does a brilliant job with the look of the hotel suite interiors to complement the new world that Tim Lippe steps in.
Costume designer Hope Hanafin does terrific work with the costumes from the suits the men wear to the more stylish business suit that Joan wears. Sound editor Andrew DeCristofaro does a fine job with the sound work to play up a few key scenes such as a talent contest where Tim steals the show as well as the raucous party scene where Tim parties with Bree. The film’s score by Christophe Beck is excellent for its very playful and melodic-driven score led by jazzy piano riffs and soothing string arrangements to emphasize the film‘s light-hearted humor. Music supervisor Margaret Yen provides a very fun score that is a mixture of folk, indie rock, classic rock, and pop music to play up the world that Tim Lippe ventures into.
The casting by Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento, and Meredith Tucker is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes Thomas Lennon as Tim‘s fellow agent Roger Lemke, Mike O‘Malley as the smug top agent Mike Pyle, and Rob Coddroy as a mean guy Tim meets at a party. Alia Shawkat is terrific as young hooker Bree who befriends Tim as she calls him “Butterscotch”. Kurtwood Smith is excellent as ASMI president Orrin Helgesson who claims to be about everything the contest is about only for Tim to discover something devious about him. Stephen Root is superb as Tim’s greedy boss Bill Krogstad who becomes desperate to win the Two Diamonds award while finding some way to make sure Tim succeeds in his mission. Sigourney Weaver is wonderful as Tim’s older girlfriend Macy whom he adores and always go to her for advice as Weaver brings a great maternal instinct to the character while still being very sexy.
Isaiah Whitlock Jr. is great as the film’s straight-man Ronald Wilkes as he shows Tim the ropes about the conference while proving that he can loosen up and be threatening in his own way. Anne Heche is amazing as the very fun Joan Ostrowski-Fox who helps Tim deal with his new surroundings while revealing some secrets about the ASMI conference as it’s Heche giving out one of her best performances of her career. John C. Reilly is phenomenal as Dean Ziegler as Reilly brings a lot of energy to his character that might be a brash blow-hard but there’s also a lot of heart to his character who does care for clients and friends. Finally, there’s Ed Helms in a winning performance as the naïve Tim Lippe where Helms brings a wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm to his character. Even as Helms gets a chance to be funny while proving to be a solid dramatic actor as it proves that there’s more to Helms than being the crazed partier in the Hangover movies.
Cedar Rapids is a fun and enjoyable comedy from Miguel Arteta. Featuring dynamic performances from Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, and Isaiah Whitlock Jr., it’s a film that is very smart as well as providing enough amusing and compelling moments to keep its audience entertained. Notably as it’s comedy that doesn’t try to rely on cheap gags in order to create characters and situations audiences can relate to. In the end, Cedar Rapids is a fantastic film from Miguel Arteta.
Miguel Arteta Films: (Star Maps) - (Chuck & Buck) - (The Good Girl) - (Youth in Revolt)
© thevoid99 2012