Nice guys rarely finish first – there is always someone willing to play dirty to get ahead.
It’s the way of the world, even in the heightened reality of Miguel Arteta’s delightful and offbeat comedy about a shy and retiring insurance agent, who receives valuable life lessons during a boozy industry conference.
Greed merrily trumps honesty and sincerity, and the people who get ahead are those willing to sell their souls for a quick buck.
However, as first-time feature film screenwriter Phil Johnston is quick to point out, success without responsibility doesn’t guarantee happiness.
He crafts a menagerie of larger than life figures, whose hilarious misadventures are tethered to raw emotion, from the businesswoman who looks forward to conference season as an escape from her suffocating marriage to the hopeless romantic who unabashedly tells his partner, “I really miss you. I dream of you in my heart.”
Admittedly, some episodes strain credibility but we are resolutely behind Johnston’s morally flawed protagonists every stumble of the way.
Arteta, who previously directed Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl and Youth In Revolt, is a snug fit for the quirky material, mining a rich vein of black humour that underpins the characters’ suffering.
Nice guy Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) works for an insurance firm which has won the coveted Two Diamonds award for excellence in customer service for the past two years.
Gregarious agent Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon) is the chief reason for the firm’s success and every year, he travels to a conference to compete against rival insurance firms for the glittering industry standard.
After Roger dies, boss Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) asks Tim to represent the company at the conference, making it clear that his future depends on the Two Diamonds award.
Tim nervously flies to Iowa where he room-shares with lovable Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and party animal Dean Ziegler (John C Reilly).
The men introduce Tim to sassy agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) and to conference leader Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), who ultimately decides which agency claims the prize.
Cedar Rapids is a delightful character study centred on an innocent, kind and caring man.
Helms is adorable in the lead role and the banter with Whitlock Jr, Reilly and Heche is littered with sparkling one-liners.
Tim’s sweetness contrasts with the jaded cynicism of the other characters, gradually shaking them out of their fug and providing the dramatic momentum for the film’s uplifting resolution.