Cedar Rapids Review: Going With The Flow

: On General Release Friday 29th April

Since 2004 hundreds of Hollywood executives have voted for what they consider the best unproduced screenplays, the scripts that receive the most nominations then going on to form an annual Blacklist. Increasingly influential, the likes of Juno and Lars & The Real Girl emerged from this curious selection process, garnering their respective studios with Oscar wins and nominations. The latest project to benefit from the Blacklist is the unexpectedly charming Cedar Rapids, a highly conventional comedy elevated by its watertight structure and an excellent ensemble cast.

The central plot is far from revolutionary: Following the death of an admired colleague in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident, the naive and well-intentioned Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is sent to represent his company at a yearly insurance conference held in the eponymous Cedar Rapids where he must try his upmost to secure the converted Double Diamond Award for the fourth year in a row.

In a love tryst with his former primary school teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver), Tim oozes inexperience, a victim of his own reluctance to accept the darker side of human nature. In desperate need of some mis-education, it is convenient when a mix up at the hotel means having to share a room with the infamously hell raising Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a coarse talking whirlwind of toilet humour and cursing who is all too ready to administer a few lessons. Thrown in at the deep end of the hard drinking world of insurance conferences, Tim soon finds companionship in the affable Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the alluring Joan Fox (Anne Heche) and even strikes up a friendship with the supposedly toxic Ziegler.

Cast for the first time as a leading man, Ed Helms clearly relished his opportunity to shine, his performance a finely measured balance of nerdish conservatism, a sprinkling of loser and sympathetic earnestness, the audience firmly on his side throughout. However, Cedar Rapids stumbles where narrative is concerned, a predictable hotch-pot of overly familiar comedic scenarios including not one but two scenes of wild inebriation which invariably leads to excessive and out of character behaviour, an all too easy means to a farce which a more inventive writer could have devised differently. The jokes may come thick and fast but not without several significant misfires.

Whilst it’s a shame writer Phil Johnston didn’t drop some of the more scatological elements and pursued other avenues instead, it is to his and Cedar Rapids’ credit that it excels where so many other comedies of the same vein have drastically failed, bringing out the best of its actors and imbuing the film with genuine emotion.

In terms of its Blacklist predecessors, Cedar Rapids is commercially no Juno but it certainly has the potential to become a quiet hit and is hopefully the first of many a great thing for Ed Helms who expands on his persona from the US version of The Office, proving he’s no one trick pony and maybe even better than his co-star Steve Carrell who had, up until now, stolen the limelight.