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Cedar Rapids

By
Cedar Rapid

© Rex Features / FoxSearch / Everett

As The Office's Andy 'The 'Nard Dog' Bernard, Ed Helms is chief sycophant to Steve Carell's blundering boss Michael Scott, while on the silver screen he's served as the straight foil to Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover. The actor, whose big break came as a correspondent on The Daily Show, just about has the market cornered in playing put-upon beta males. In Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids, he's walking a familiar path as insurance agent Tim Lippe, a thirtysomething who's never so much as set foot outside of his hometown. This makes for a side-splittingly funny and surprisingly moving fish-out-of-water tale when his boss Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) dispatches him to Iowa to reclaim the prestigious 'Two Diamonds' award at an insurance convention.

After losing his father at a young age and seeing his mother pass away while he was a teen, Tim has spent his years anchored to the town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Krogstad is the harsh, paternal figure in his life and his relationship with former teacher Marcy (Sigourney Weaver), who he meets for a weekly bedroom rendezvous, provides cringey Oedipal overtones. This juggling of workplace and personal strife is something Mike Judge expertly mined in Office Space (a film also starring Root), and with Cedar Rapids Arteta tips his hat to Judge's expert brand of everyman comedy. The presence of Alexander Payne (Sideways) as a producer also hints towards the film's tone.

Tim's trip to the eponymous town sees him meet up with a trio of convention veterans, the brazen Dean 'Deanzie' Ziegler (John C. Reilly), mellow Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and fun-seeking Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche). It's Tim's bond with this trio that triggers his personal awakening and gives the film its emotional core. Helms's presence will instantly bring comparisons to The Hangover, but Phil Johnston's smart script keeps a steadier balance between crude humour and characterisation with substance. Each of the leads has a transformative moment of their own (fans of The Wire, prepare yourselves for Ronald!), but it's Tim's takedown of the corrupt insurance heads that's most satisfying. His zero-to-hero journey works because he always come across as a decent, albeit naïve and sheltered, person.

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent too, particular Reilly, whose blow-hard Deanzie gradually reveals a softer, empathetic side. His personality sums up the movie well, being brash and loud but having love and loyalty in his heart. Cedar Rapids is a touching movie about friendship, love, trust and acceptance. At 86 minutes it speeds by, but brevity can sometimes be a virtue in the age of bloated summer blockbusters. Cedar Rapids is a pleasure to watch for its short time up on the big screen.

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