Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is the insurance agent who actually cares about people. BrownStar Insurance sends him to the convention in Cedar Rapids because their former star salesman died of autoerotic asphyxiation. There, he rooms with Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), the one man his boss warned him to stay away from.
Ronald talks in acronyms like NTS (Not too shabby). Dean is a raging pussy hound who talks dirty even when he’s being nice. Joan (Anne Heche) is the girl. Early jokes about naked man hugs and corporate scavenger hunts/group bonding activities seemed like quaint types of humor, but it builds. The gang crashes a gay wedding at the hotel and Tim sings a cover of “Oh Holy Night” with insurance lyrics.
Each character really sticks to their roles. Tim is pathetically noble in dealing with the affair he has with Joan. He’s sleeping with his old elementary school teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver) back home, so he immediately calls to apologize. It’s actually not really an affair, because he was just Macy’s post-divorce fling. Helms babbling like a guilt-ridden adulterer is funny though. Later, he makes taking a bribe sound like rape, in an amusingly inappropriate way.
The group really comes together when they have to rescue Tim from a crack party. It takes Dean’s abrasiveness, Ronald’s mellow planning and Joan’s feisty concern to bring Tim back, and they play off each other beautifully. Scenes that could be lame, like Tim’s coke-fueled party rage, are vehicles for Helms to perform, and we are privileged to watch.
The secret politics of insurance conventions provides a simple comedy plot. In light of BrownStar’s sex scandal, there’s a petition to revoke their previous 2 Diamond Awards. It’s really important that Tim gets his company another award, and he even tries selling out to do it.
Midwesterners going wild may not sound like an original idea for a comedy, but they really become a team. With each character contributing to the wacky, it becomes a unique combination. It’s not just an Ed Helms vehicle. Everybody gets quotable lines and it’s one of the most fun movies of Sundance.