Miguel Arteta continues to mine the quirky side of comedy with Cedar Rapids. It feels like this film is a step-up for the director whose previous films include The Good Girl and Youth In Revolt.
The story follows Tim Lippe (Helms), an insurance salesman who's never left his hometown, spent his entire working career at the same firm and is involved in a Mrs Robinson-esque relationship with his former teacher Mrs Venderhair (Weaver). When the company's star salesman dies during a sex act, Tim is sent to the annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids and charged with bringing back the prestigious 2-Diamond Award. Once he gets there Tim manages to befriend the local hooker, bond with his two roommates and catch the eye of female agent Joan.
The film rests on the shoulders of Helms as the sheltered Tim and he delivers an excellent performance. He makes the character sympathetic and leaves the audience rooting for him throughout. Matching him is the ever-excellent John C Reilly as Tim's possible nemesis Dean Ziegler ('Call me Deanzy') an obnoxious loud-mouth. Isiah Whitlock is aso very good as Tim's other roommate Ronald, a man who just wants to do his job well, and Anne Heche reminding us of what a good actress she can be as the fourth Musketeer Joan.
It's almost a fish-out-of-water comedy, but actually it's much celever than that. Johnston's script is excellent; there's one particular scene with Tim and Deanzy in just their underwear which is both funny and moving, a tribute to fine writing, directing and acting. All the characters are well fleshed out, each one's back story is explained and you understand why this weekend away from their usual lives in important for them.
It's a lovely film with enough bite to stop it falling into sentimentality and Helms and co deliver excellent performances. It's well worth a trip to Cedar Rapids.