The new film Cedar Rapids by Miguel Arteta, who makes idiosyncratic, off-beat films such as Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, is a modern day morality tale about corruption, infidelity, sex, and drugs. It features Ed Helms, star of The Hangover, in the lead role, along with an all star cast (including Jack Nicholson in a short cameo) – Sigourney Weaver of Aliens and Map of the World, John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. from The Wire, Kurtwood Smith of The Dead Poets Society and That ‘70s Show, and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development – she plays a down-and-out hooker.
Ed Holms is Tim Lippe, a naïve insurance seller from a small town in Wisconsin. He’s carrying on a torrid affair with Marcy, his former school teacher. When one of his colleagues kills himself in a freak auto-erotic asphyxiation accident, Tim’s world is shattered. Not only that, his boss asks him to go to a regional insurance conference in the city of Cedar Rapids (the second largest city in Iowa, by the way) in the stead of his late co-worker.
At the conference, Lippe rooms with Dean Ziegler (Reilly), a depressed, alcoholic divorcé, and Ronald Wilkes (Whitlock), a somber, Wire-obsessed “Afro-American,” as Lippe refers to him. He also meets Joan (played by Anne Heche), an attractive, free-spirited woman with children and an unhappy marriage.
Zeigler, Wilkes and Joan all recognize that Lippe is a complex, dynamic person, and they try to disinhibit him by offering him drinks and, in Joan’s case, sex. When Lippe finally caves under their pressure and goes out for a night of boozing, his world is only shattered more; he sleeps with Joan, gets in trouble with the president of the conference (Kurtwood Smith), and his lover (Weaver) breaks up with him over the phone. Not only that, but Lippe misunderstands the advice of his roommate and successfully bribes the conference president.
It gets worse: feeling morally debased, Lippe resorts to hard drugs and parties with Bree, the hotel call-girl (Maeby of Arrested Development). Thankfully, his friends rescue him from certain death and return him safely to the hotel.
In short, Cedar Rapids is a contemporary masterpiece about moral questions that plague our modern society. It is not surprising considering this comes from a director who made a film that includes the line “Chuck and Buck suck and fuck.”