In Good Company
Director : Paul Weitz
Screenplay : Paul Weitz
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Dennis Quaid (Dan Foreman), Topher Grace (Carter Duryea), Scarlett Johansson (Alex Foreman), Marg Helgenberger (Ann Foreman), David Paymer (Morty), Clark Gregg (Steckle), Philip Baker Hall (Eugene Kalb), Selma Blair (Kimberly), Frankie Faison (Corwin), Ty Burrell (Enrique Colon), Kevin Chapman (Lou), Malcolm McDowell (Teddy K)
In Good Company is a feel-good dramedy about the power of honesty, decency, and good ol' fashioned belief in what one is doing to overcome the perils of faceless corporate hegemony. To fully enjoy the movie, of course, one must overlook the fact that it was produced and distributed by the second largest media conglomerate in the world. But, honestly, most moviegoers don't pay all that much attention to what studio produced what movie, much less what mega-conglomerate owns said studio. And, in fact, for the ironically inclined, there is much pleasure to be gained from watching a movie produced under these circumstances that makes fun of synergy and corporate braggadocio, both of which are overheated concepts always primed to explode in the faces of those who wield them.
At its heart, In Good Company is a generation-gap comedy, pitting wily baby boomers against the youthful up-and-comers who have aged too quickly and learned too little in the process. The boomers are represented by Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a 23-year veteran sales executive for a Sports Illustrated-like sports magazine. He has a good salary, a nice corner office, and a plethora of clients -- all of which, we are encouraged to intuit, he earned the old-fashioned way through hard work and perseverance. Enter Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a 26-year-old hotshot executive who displaces Dan when his company, Globalcom, buys out the magazine. Carter is smart enough to keep Dan around as his "wing man" because Carter, as he admits, knows absolutely nothing about ad sales for a sports magazine.
Dan is understandably miffed that, after all his time and service, he is demoted without rhyme or reason and replace by a kid who doesn't even know what he's doing. But, Carter is a smooth talker and a fast thinker, and soon he's turning the salespeople on to notions of synergy and cross-promotion, which fly in the face of Dan's old-school ways. The situation is intensified exponentially when Carter begins a romantic relationship with Dan's college-age daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), although it should be noted that the relationship is instigated by Alex, whose beguiling combination of youthful innocence and beyond-her-years confidence mirrors in a strange way Carter's own brash mixture of gangly teenager and ruthless corporate "ninja."
Writer director Paul Weitz, who with his brother Chris Weitz made American Pie (1999), Down to Earth (2000), and About a Boy (2001), is clearly aiming for a film that reassures, rather than unsettles. Much of In Good Company plays on boomer fears of being replaced by the younger generation after so many years of being in control (this exact same fear was struck in a similar way almost 15 years ago in a subplot of Ron Howard's Parenthood), but in the end the plot circles around to a cozy conclusion suggesting that, regardless of age, good people win out in the end as long as they're true to themselves. In some ways, the ending is a little too cozy, and at times it slips into near fantasyland, such as when Dan speaks openly questions media mogul Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell) in one of those confrontation scenes that simply never take place in real life.
Yet, despite some of the less-than-believable plot turns, the film works because the characters work. Dennis Quaid is perfectly cast a Dan, a fundamentally decent man whose greatest concerns are his mortgage payments, his daughters' happiness, and his wife's pregnancy. He works and he loves what he does, but there is a balance between his professional and his home life, and that results in a kind of comfort that can't be bought.
Topher Grace (That '70s Show) steps into one of his first major roles and nails the intricacies of Carter, who is fueled by both a nonstop diet of caffeine and his simultaneous drive to succeed and fear that he has already peaked a mere 26 years into his life. Carter is never the enemy, though -- that job goes to real sleazebags like Clark Gregg's Steckle, Carter's superior who has long since traded in his humanity for economic success. Carter's humanity, on the other hand, is constantly in danger, and not surprisingly it is up to Dan to help him find it and, more importantly, nurture it. In this sense, In Good Company is a surrogate father-son story, emphasized by the fact that Dan never had a son of his own and Carter's father left him when he was four. This unfortunately means that Alex has to recede into the background once her job of bringing the tensions between Dan and Carter to a head is completed.
In Good Company certainly intends for lessons to be learned, but it doesn't condescend in simple fashion like The Family Man (2000) and other films of its ilk that try to convince us that money and fame and success pale in comparison to the kind of everyday lives most of us lead. Films like that smack of wealthy entertainers using their medium to placate the masses by telling them that they have it good -- the very definition of hegemony. Instead, In Good Company suggests that different kinds of success have their own rewards. Dan is a successful businessman and it is clear that he derives pleasure from it because he believes in what he does, not just the paycheck at the end of the week. Carter, on the other hand, is a success on the surface, but a failure inside because his enthusiasm for his job is just a mask for the personal emptiness he feels. Thus, if the film is about anything, it's about the need for balance. Families are good, but so are professions, and one doesn't necessarily have to come at the expense of the other.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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