Ed Helms plays a naive small-town boy who has never been on a plane
and is dating his former 7th-grade teacher. He makes his living
selling insurance, but he's
not a cutthroat high-pressure salesman. He's an idealist who
believes in his product and his profession. He believes that
insurance agents are heroes because they help people prepare for
disasters, and are the ones we turn to to get us back on our feet
in the very worst times of our lives.
When an embarrassing fatal
accident (think David Carradine) takes the life of his agency's
senior spokesman, it falls upon Ed to go to Cedar Rapids and make a
critical presentation at the big annual regional convention. He
falls in with a crowd that likes to party, as conventioneers will,
and his encounter with the real world makes him more worldly in many ways.
His maturity is not without
some compromises and the loss of some ideals, but ultimately he
figures out the difference between right and wrong and emerges as a
Cedar Rapids is a raunchy "slobs vs snobs" comedy, although it is a
lot more complicated than the typical film in that genre. It does include the genre's usual one-dimensional antagonist,
but the script
develops its humor within the context of believable characters and
plausible situations, and it carves the hero's triumph out of his
own genuine, credible personal development rather than from the
unrealistic one-time achievement which usually provides the climax
of a slob-snob movie.
Like all films in this genre, Cedar Rapids has an underlying serious
point, which goes something like this: the best people are those who
care about others. They are simple, direct, humble, sincere, and
fun-loving, and are "winners" even when they have small pecs and
smaller bank accounts. The effort made by a "slobs vs snobs" author
to develop the serious point depends, I suppose, on his or her
personal emotional involvement in the story. Sometimes the plot
satisfies the genre requirements in a perfunctory manner simply by
letting the underdogs get the girls or end up as the unlikely
winners of a competition, but this film takes a different path. It
spends a lot of time developing the eventual moral superiority of
the underdog, ruminating about which ends are really worth pursuing
in life, and questioning whether one should cut moral corners, even
in pursuit of one of those worthwhile ends.
In fact, the film spends enough time on serious ruminations and
soul-searching that it doesn't always find as much time for comedy
as I would like. The three main "slobs," played by Helms, John C.
Reilly and Anne Heche, are carrying around a lot of emotional
baggage that has nothing to do with the "snobs," but is
just part of the human condition. There's a lot of
existential ennui and loneliness inside of the dick jokes. Imagine
if Animal House had been made by Ingmar Bergman, and you'll be
getting close to what's going on here.
That last paragraph doesn't make the film sound very appealing, or
at least I would not find it so if it had been written by somebody
else, and yet I liked the film quite a bit. Cedar Rapids is a good
comedy, but not because it is extremely funny. It's a movie with a
big heart which also happens to be pretty funny from time to time.