Having found myself at a loss for something to watch, I began trawling through the ever-growing catalogue of titles on the increasingly impressive streaming service that is Disney+’s Star, and I came across Cedar Rapids.
Despite being a big fan of late night comedies, I’d never heard of this 2011 Ed Helms vehicle, although I found it somewhat hard to understand why.
To start with, the thought that a comedy staple like Helms had starred in this film I’d never heard of was an indication that it might not be a particularly enthralling watch. Then the film started, and I saw Sigourney Weaver. Then Stephen Root appeared, and another familiar face in Thomas Lennon. Before long, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Alia Shawkat had joined proceedings, and I was more than a little confused as to how a cast of such impressive scale had ever flown under my radar. (Rob Corddry and Kurtwood Smith also appear, just in case you needed any more proof that Cedar Rapids boasts an outstanding cast.)
On paper, the film’s plot does admittedly sound a little dry – an insurance salesman must attend a conference in order to save his co-workers’ jobs – but honestly, within its first few minutes Cedar Rapids foregoes any pretext of normality. Instead, it presents a warped reflection of small town life: a man having casual sex with his former teacher, a respected member of the community dead by auto-erotic asphyxiation, and an overzealous and deeply hypocritical Christian boss all set the scene for one of the most heartwarming and acutely surreal comedies I’ve seen in a long time.
The term ‘oddball’ certainly applies, with Helms delivering an uninhibited performance as the tightly-wound, sheltered protagonist meeting a group of unlikely (and vastly diverse) salespeople who soon build one of the strangest friendship groups ever committed to film.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s hardly an award-winning piece of cinema. But its delicate strangeness and its reluctance to fully define itself makes for a surprisingly refreshing viewing. Cedar Rapids is certainly guilty of being more than a little predictable, but it packs a misleading strong comedic punch with an emotional core that will sneak up on many viewers.
Credit in particular should go to John C. Reilly, who lends his familiar brand of loud-mouthed hilarity and endearing oafishness to his role, and to Isiah Whitlock Jr., who proves himself to be something of a master of deadpan.
A masterpiece it certainly ain’t, but Cedar Rapids was misleadingly heartfelt, and I found myself pleasantly surprised with each passing scene.
Summary: Equal parts hilarious, ridiculous and genuine, Cedar Rapids deserves far more attention than it’s ever received. Fans of screwball comedies will find plenty to enjoy amongst this stellar comic cast.