Miguel Arteta is a director that is building a nice compilation of movies about insignificant characters in their very small lives. Essentially he is making movies about real people. People we all know. People that we overlook on a day-to-day basis. People that are not saving the world, but cheating on their spouse or as "Cedar Rapids" presents, going to an insurance convention. Characters that we can connect with, because overall they feel real.
Arteta takes his simplistic style which looks at forgettable characters and focuses it within a comedic premise. Quite honestly "Cedar Rapids" is not Arteta's baby, it is very much screenwriter's Phil Johnston and actor Ed Helms, but wisely they brought the material to Arteta to give it his touch. The problem is that while structuring the conflict of the film in such a insignificant manner the comedy can be easily forgotten.
What is not forgettable are the performances. John C. Reilly, Ed Helms, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche all deliver very honest and memorable portrayals. Reilly easily leads the cast though Ed Helms is the actual lead of the film. Reilly is a scene stealer from his hysterical entrance all the way through to the whimsical skits shown during the credit roll. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it, Reilly's character Dean Ziegler feels like what happened to Reed Rothchild after his porn career fizzled away.
If you are a fan of Ed Helms and his schtick on NBC's The Office or in The Hangover, you will love him here as the naive insurance salesman. It is plain as day that the role and film were built around Helms and the simpleton character he is known for playing. What makes his character Tim Lippe hilarious here is the fish-out-of-water syndrome he is thrown into. Also the characters Tim is forced to deal with while he is at the insurance convention. A motley crew or insurance agents if you, one that is championed by John C. Reilly and his ability to create real hilarity.
Credit must be paid to screenwriter Phil Johnston and producer Alexander Payne for making a authentic dialogue comedy. One that had real life midwestern language. Much like how the Coen brothers can turn out script after script with dialogue that feels normal, so too has Johnston. Johnston also adds a lot of humor. Humor and dialogue that once again is nailed by the cast. Repeatedly throughout "Cedar Rapids" I found myself hearing dialogue or wise cracks that are common place in the midwest and in middle America. Dialogue we don't hear enough in movies.
Overall "Cedar Rapids" is a short and sweet. It is filled with great dialogue and hilarious performances, but misses any opportunity to leave a lasting effect. If you remember anything about this movie it will be the performances and dialogue not the situations they are put through.