Comedies these days have quite a bar to consider. How do they raise it? Do they have celebrities run nude in public places? Do they have upstanding citizens go all potty mouth? Is sex with animals necessary for a good comedy? Are farts?
“Cedar Rapids” proves that a small town green-in-the-gills insurance agent can be funny just by being who he is. In an age of over-the-top comedies which place more stock in shock value than in characters and a good story, this film seeks to be different. While it is not without the usual suspects in comedies: foul language, sexual scenes, or drug and alcohol abuse, it doesn’t use these elements as its only currency. Ed Helms, in perhaps his first main lead role, has a sort of Steve Carell charm about him. Free of the specs he wore in the Hangover Trilogy, he is a sort of innocent who gives a promise ring to the girl he loves, says please and thank you and never swears or takes the Lord’s name in vain. This doesn’t mean he’s uppity, just a well meaning salt of the earth type of guy. He lives in a small town working for a small insurance agency.
Suddenly he’s forced to attend a conference in the film’s namesake. He’s never really been out of town and has never been on a plane. Rather than play up some artificial hyperbole, he really just takes it naturally. He is wide eyed with wonder at the process of passing the security gate at the tiny local airport, getting his rental car, and checking into a hotel. He takes new things really suspiciously, such as needing to imprint his credit card at check-in and rooming with other people. Watching him go through these sort of coming of age rites of businessman passage brought me back to my own first times on a plane, checking into a hotel alone, and attending a conference far from home. I imagine I had the same sort of folksy awkwardness about myself grinning like an idiot saying “Wow!” a lot. Of course I was in my early 20’s then and Ed was pushing 40 in this movie. Remember the best scenes of “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” wherein Steve Carell steps out of his sheltered albeit happy life? There’s plenty of that here as well as the camaraderie of new friends that help him on his journey.
John C. Reilly plays a sort of wild character but wild for the circumstances not for comedies. He drinks,flirts, swears, etc but has a genuinely good heart as you would expect from a Reilly role. Anne Heche joins the cast as a flirty redhead. Man, if she doesn’t look as good as ever. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. of “The Wire” fame is the calm, reasonable roommate who is as good natured and folksy as Ed’s character if not as ingenuous. This quartet goes through a load of laughs but not just for laughter’s sake. There’s much said about the nature of conferences and how they provide people with a outlet for the always nose-to-the grindstone workhorse.
The plot isn’t overly complex but not intellectually insulting either. It’s a swell, good natured if not raunchy film that doesn’t go overboard, and doesn’t need to either. I really felt a kinship with the characters which I haven’t felt for a while in a comedy.