Directed with a light touch by Miguel Arteta, Cedar Rapids is a coming-of-age comedy with a difference, the difference being that the character doing the growing up must be close to 40.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a mild-mannered insurance man who has rarely ventured beyond the confines of Brown Valley, his small Midwestern home town.
Having lost his father as a child and his mother as a teenager, Tim has developed a touching but ill-advised faith in his unscrupulous boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), and become very attached to his former schoolteacher, Marcy Venderhei (Sigourney Weaver), with whom he's having an affair.
In other words, Tim is emotionally stunted and dangerously ill-equipped for life in the big bad world. We find out just how ill-equipped when, after a colleague at work dies in an auto-erotic accident, Tim is sent to represent his company at an annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Lippe's unfortunate predecessor managed to win the convention's prestigious 'Two Diamonds' award three years in a row, and Tim is left in no doubt that he's expected to perform a similar feat. Instead, he's overwhelmed by even this modest journey into the unknown.
He's never been on a plane before and, when he arrives at his modestly swanky hotel, he's so excited by the sight of the swimming pool that he phones Marcy and tells her "it's like I'm in Barbados".
Like Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds Goes to Town, Tim is an innocent in a den of knowing cynics, but salvation arrives from an unexpected source.
Though Tim is initially horrified by his loud and vulgar roommate Dean Ziegler (John C Reilly), Dean will prove a truer soul than the oily conference boss that Tim is trying to impress. So, in their way, will a louche female delegate called Joan (played by an unrecognisable Anne Heche) and a rather wistful local hooker (Alia Shawkat).
What's most endearing about Cedar Rapids is its good-hearted sincerity. As you'd expect of a film starring Reilly and Helms, there are plenty of crude sex jokes, but these do not detract from the film's underlying warmth.
It's a little dark for a broad comedy, and maybe not quite funny enough, but overall Cedar Rapids is a very winning little film, with lovely turns from Weaver, Heche, Helms, Reilly and Isiah Whitlock Jr, whose cheesy salesman Ronald Wilkes is the funniest character on display.