Hooray for Dorks!

Cedar Rapids ★★★½
(USA, 87 min.)
Dir: Miguel Arteta; Writ: Phil Johnston
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat.
Meet Tim, a dorky insurance sales representative from Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Played by Ed Helms, Tim is so awkward, bumbling, and socially inept that he could be ripped from the cast of The Office. “I used to stare at you in class and imagine what you’d look like with your clothes off,” Tim says to his lover, and former teacher, Miss Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), “Did you ever think like that about me?”
         “No Tim,” she replies, “You were twelve.”
Welcome to Cedar Rapids, a comedy that, like Tim, is awkward, offbeat, and fun.

Tim’s relationship with Miss Vanderhei might be the best thing going for him at the beginning of the film. Maybe it seems a bit too good, since Tim thinks they are practically engaged, while Miss Vanderhei insists that they are just having fun. Otherwise, Tim is a bit of a loner and he is also the human doormat at the wood-panelled office of Brown Star Insurance. Tim finally lands a big break, however, when the star salesman at Brown Star is discovered hanging in his bathroom with his belt around his neck and his trousers around his feet. This unfortunate death leads Bill (Stephen Root), the CEO of Brown Star, to send Tim to the all-important insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to defend Brown Star’s win of the prestigious “Double Diamond” award for insurance excellence.

In Cedar Rapids, Tim shares a room with fellow salesmen Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly, who brings the house down in a raucous scene-stealing performance). Ziegler proves to be especially rambunctious and he intends the use the convention as a prime opportunity to get wasted and score some ass. Not surprisingly, Tim’s straitlaced demeanour clashes with Ziegler’s rowdiness, especially since Boss warned Tim to steer clear of Dean unless his aim is to tarnish the legacy of Brown Star. Despite Tim’s shyness, he is coaxed into the group by a foxy conventioneer named Joan Fox (Anne Heche).

The foursome soon wreaks havoc on the hotel in a slew of drunken escapades, as well as some set-ups that audiences have come to expect in quirky indie comedies. Nonetheless, writer Phil Johnston offers some hilarious scenarios – the disastrous team-building exercise at a rock-climbing facility is a hoot – and plenty of raunchy and uproariously politically incorrect humour. Whitlock gets an especially fun scene in which he mocks his resume and parodies Omar, the gun-totin’ hoodlum from “The Wire.” (That scene might be the closest I’ve come to wetting my pants in a theatre.)

The comic ensemble of Cedar Rapids serves the film extremely well and they compensate for the familiarity and corniness that occasionally arises during the film. While Cedar Rapids lacks the depth of character that made director Miguel Arteta’s breakthrough The Good Girl (2002) so memorable, nor does it have the energy and style of last year’s Youth in Revolt, it delivers the goods nonetheless. It is consistently entertaining and it offers lots of raunchy fun without being tasteless. The boisterous quartet of Cedar Rapids recalls the frat boy antics of Animal House, except that everyone is really awkward and the protagonist wears a dorky woollen sweater-vest instead of a bed sheet toga. While it might not do anything new, Cedar Rapids proves that the right combination of drunken shenanigans, cougar jokes, and a nerdy anti-hero always result in a fun night at the movies.

Cedar Rapids is currently playing at the World Exchage Empire 7 in Ottawa.