For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the wife of another,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for a prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread,
but the wife of another stalks a man’s very life.
My first reaction to director Miguel Arteta and writer Phil Johnston’s comedy was a positive one that soon turned negative. I was intrigued when our naive hero Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), an insurance agent, described his job in terms of a calling because in times of disaster he was able to help people. His listener responds, “You realize you just made it sound cool to be an insurance agent.” But then came a series of casual drug use and sex milked for their laughs, with no sense that in the real world there are dire consequences for such acts.
The initial humor lies in the naivety of Tim Lippe, who allegedly has never traveled far from his native Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Still a bachelor, he enjoys weekly sexual trysts with his 7th grade school teacher Macy Vanderhei (a very underused Sigourney Weaver). At work he is under the shadow of a hotshot salesman who has won for the agency two Two Diamonds Award. When the latter dies suddenly, guess who is chosen to go in his place to the annual company convention?
Although Tim is thrilled to go to the big city of Cedar Rapids, he is also somewhat frightened, never having ventured so far before or made much use of his credit card, and certainly never has checked into a motel. (He carries his cash in a cummerbund!) He enjoys the new experience of going through security at the airport, and on his way to his motel room, he rhapsodizes on his cell phone call to Macy about the swimming pool.
As he enters his room, he is shocked that there is an Africa American there, who turns out to be Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock), a very down to earth fellow salesman. I emphasize the latter because next enters Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), brash, over the top loud, one of those hugging guys always looking for a good time while drinking.
To round out the group there is working mom Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who sees the annual convention as a means of escaping her unexciting sex life at home. A lesser character is Bree (Alia Shawkat), whom Tim had met outside the motel entrance: he is too inexperienced to realize that her interest in the convention is professional, but an insurance agent she is not.
Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith) as head of the company presides over the meetings. He is the kind of Christian who displays his religion, and of course, we know, will prove to be a hypocrite. Certainly the attendees are, listening to his moralisms as if they really believed. Tim finds this out when he engages in the one-on-one interview with Orin, from which he will select this year’s Diamond Award winner. Other predictable things: Tim, Dean, and Joan will soon be in that swimming pool; and, along with Bree, they will introduce our hero to sex, drugs and excessive drinking.
Joan as the wife/mother who indulges in casual sex during her annual trip from home reminds one a little of Alex Goran, the amoral wife in Up in the Air, except this film as a whole is not nearly as insightful as that cautionary parable. That Tim returns home a man transformed by the better through his ingestion of drugs and indulgence in sex and alcohol, as the filmmakers would have us believe, is questionable (though at least his emergence from an unethical deal with the company head is commendable). This is a film to see only if you have nothing better to do—and it’s showing on an airliner or on cable. (An additional disappointment, in that three of my children and I recently were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in that city—the film was actually shot in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Tax breaks take precedence over authentic location! We do see the real city from the air, and a scene on a park bench looks like a location shot, but apparently wasn’t.) You’re on your own for discussion questions!