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movie review: CEDAR RAPIDS

By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin February 10, 2011 at 5:00AM

One of the things I admire most about director Miguel Arteta’s films (including Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl) is that he shows such compassion for his characters. That’s why I was thrown off by Cedar Rapids, at first. The screenplay, by newcomer Phil Johnston, seems to be making fun of its naïve, almost childlike small-town hero, Tim Lippe, a dedicated insurance salesman played by Ed Helms.
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One of the things I admire most about director Miguel Arteta’s films (including Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl) is that he shows such compassion for his characters. That’s why I was thrown off by Cedar Rapids, at first. The screenplay, by newcomer Phil Johnston, seems to be making fun of its naïve, almost childlike small-town hero, Tim Lippe, a dedicated insurance salesman played by Ed Helms.

But as the film goes on the tone subtly changes, and the somewhat buffoon-ish character becomes more genuine and likable, along with the people around him. Helms, who’s been an MVP in a number of films and television series, from The Office to The Hangover, shows more—

—colors here than we’ve seen before in his sincere performance as Wisconsin’s Tim Lippe.

The story involves Lippe being sent to an insurance agents’ convention in Iowa, where he is charged with making a presentation and bringing back an important industry award. Instead, he experiences an accelerated coming-of-age over the course of one party-hearty weekend, as his values—and especially, his integrity—are put to the test.

A fine supporting cast is led by Sigourney Weaver, as Helms’ lover and former schoolteacher, John C. Reilly, as a bombastic conventioneer, Anne Heche, as a flirtatious colleague, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., as Helms’ straight-arrow roommate, Kurtwood Smith, as a sanctimonious industry leader, Stephen Root, as Helms’ boss, and Alia Shawkat, as a good-time girl who hangs around the convention hotel picking up tricks.

Everyone does good work here, but for Helms this is a breakout role, and he delivers. Cedar Rapids is a modest but disarming comedy that will leave a smile on your face.

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