By MARK TURNER
It seems that every now and then a small movie makes big noise. They’re usually an independent film that was made for almost no money. If they’re lucky, they get a star or two and they become noticed at film festivals.
CLERKS was one such film and so was LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. So when I heard that CEDAR RAPIDS was this year's talked-about indie film I wondered if it was true or not. Yes, the movie lives up to its reputation. It’s hilarious.
Ed Helms (of HANGOVER and THE OFFICE fame) stars as Tim Lippe, a modest insurance salesman in a small town who was destined for great things but never seemed to get there. His life is rather hum-drum; he’s never been anywhere outside of this small town and the thrill of his life is his girlfriend Macy (Sigourney Weaver), his old 7th grade teacher.
Currently he plays second fiddle to Roger, the top guy who has always represented the company well at the national convention, bringing them back 2 Double Diamond trophies in a row. When Roger is found hung with his own belt in an act of autoerotic asphyxiation, Tim is selected as his replacement. The company’s owner Bill (Stephen Root) gives him advice and books him in a room with a safe fellow insurance salesman.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans…
His roommate Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and he are upgraded to a suite since the hotel overbooked. Unfortunately they have to take in a third party and that person is Dean Zeigler (John C. Reilly), a wild man that Bill warned Tim to stay away from. As is usually the case, Dean isn’t quite as bad as Bill made him out to be even if he is a horn dog and a guy who likes to have far too much fun.
As the threesome gets acquainted they’re joined by Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), another insurance salesperson who knows everyone but Tim. The four become fast friends as the film progresses and find themselves in various predicaments.
As Tim attempts to become one of the boys, he finds friendships tested and his morals questioned due to a twist in his plans he didn’t account for. He finds himself forced to question a few of his beliefs, to open himself up to the world outside of his small town and to basically grow up. Through it all he makes some fantastic life long friends.
I know, an insurance salesman convention doesn’t sound like the most interesting thing on the planet. But the fact is that these characters are likeable, crazy, fun, interesting and more complex than you would think. The spots they find themselves in are funny at times and touching at others. These characters are ones you’d like to have a drink with.
The film offers some great writing and directing as both bring out the best in these actors. I’ve not seen Heche do a character as well as she does Joan, a woman in what could be a loveless marriage who makes the convention a time to let loose. Reilly has this character down pat having played similar ones before. There was no way anyone else could have played this character. And Whitlock does a great turn here as a straight laced salesman who has a side he rarely lets anyone else see.
But the central character here of Tim as played by Helms is great. He could have gone for goofy, he could have overdone the aw shucks attitude. But Helms plays it straighter than that and the character of Tim Lippe is better off for it. You first think of him as a buffoon but by the end of the film come to care about him deeply.
CEDAR RAPIDS proves one thing. You don’t have to have a mega-million dollar budget to make a great movie. You just have to make something original, something entertaining and something that will make people laugh. This film does all three and does them well. .
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