Cross The 40-Year Old Virgin and The Hangover…and you probably have the pitch for Cedar Rapids. For reasons I don’t know, this comedy is getting a platform release, like an art house movie. But it’s easily as good as most mainstream comedies and better than most.
If you haven’t heard of it, Ed Helms is the star and plays a totally innocent/naive insurance salesman who’s never left his small Wisconsin town. He sees insurance as a noble profession, dedicated to helping others, and he expects everyone to be as forthright and moral as he was raised to be.
Until he is forced to go to the “big city” of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for an insurance convention. He falls into situations he never imagined, which are eye-openingly educational for him, and very amusing for the audience.
Beyond the usual zaniness of this type of movie, what really set it apart for me was the characters. I find a lot of bland comedies really only care about setting up the jokes. In this one, the characters are all unique, believable, and worth caring about. Ed Helms is supported by John C. Reilly as the bad boy of insurance, Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a fellow small-city salesman, and Anne Heche, in the best comeback role I’ve seen in a long time. She’s really great as a flirty, fun colleague who feels like her best days are behind her but is determined to wring what she can out of life.
Because you like the characters and are rooting for them, the jokes all work better. They are funny–maybe not as laugh out loud funny as The Hangover, but they’re not trying to be. I hesitate to use the word “sweet,” but the movie is clearly going for something a bit more meaningful than mindless wackiness.
The movie lost a little bit for me in just HOW naive the main character was. He’s no Napoleon Dynamite, but come on, he’s seen movies and TV, he should know more about the outside world than he does. Also, circumstances around the big conflict that helps him learn to grow up seemed a bit unlikely to me. But these are honestly pretty small complaints. I have no reservations about recommending this one if you’re looking for a comedy. It aims high and usually hits the mark.