Cedar Rapids starts out looking like a Judd Apatow comedy but it ends up more like a Frank Capra movie–a descent into an abyss of corruption and disillusionment ultimately ending with a triumph of small-town values.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a twenty-something small-town insurance salesman. He seems to be suffering from a case of arrested development. But he’s not one of Judd Apatow’s man-boys. He wants to be grown-up and responsible. But he’s extremely naive, with both the idealism and cluelessness of a twelve-year-old boy (as evidenced by the fact that his social life is limited to a once-a-week affair with his former elementary school teacher (Sigourney Weaver)).
His life is upended when he is picked to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to attend an insurance convention. He is ordered to bring back the Two Diamonds Award, intended for the insurance agency that best embodies service, integrity and Christian values.
Tim has never been to a big city before and is not sure that he can handle it. And Fate seems to be conspiring against him. He is supposed to be sharing a hotel room with an older, wiser insurance agent (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who seems even more straight-laced than him. But the overbooked hotel prevails on them to accept a third roommate who turns out to be trouble: Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), notorious among midwestern insurance agents as a depraved party animal.
Worse, he feels guiltily attacted to a female insurance agent (Anne Heche) who also represents trouble.
The film gets into surprisingly dark territory in the middle section, but then moves resolutely to a cheerful if predictable ending. I’m not sure that Frank Capra would have approved, but he would have at least nodded in recognition.