by Laura Kyle
Paul Weitz is one of those rare filmmakers who can turn the stuff of sitcoms into the stuff of great movies. He did this with American Pie and About a Boy. And now, with In Good Company, we have another film that could easily collapse under its premise. 51-year-old family man gets demoted; 26-year-old hotshot becomes his boss, and falls in love with his daughter. Plots like these, however predictable, are so amusing in their own right, they often replace good scripts, and sink or swim based on the talent of their actors alone. Fortunately, Weitz didn’t give in to the laziness a film like this permits.A beginning scene intentionally gives away a major theme: when too much is given to a person early on, it’s bound to end up disastrous.
"Another film that gallantly sticks it to corporate America."
And so is the case with Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a young guy with no experience in advertising, who is given the reigns at an ad sales department, based on his corporate street smarts and one good sales pitch: cell-phones designed like dinosaurs, to be marketed toward five to ten-year-olds. (It’s scary to consider that somewhere, someplace, someone in advertising is thinking, “Has that been patented yet?”)
The massive corporation Globecom (think any major corporation today) takes over a company where veteran ad exec Dan Foreman (a very bronzed Dennis Quaid) has worked for years, and promptly passes his job to one their own, Carter. A wave of lay-offs paves the way for new profits, and “synergy,” or a unified sales campaign spread out across different products, is the new strategy in town.
Carter is fully aware he’s in over his head, so he keeps Dan aboard, as his “wingman.” Dan reluctantly agrees, because with a wife and two daughters, he can hardly afford to lose his job. Immediately, Carter latches onto Dan, not only for his wisdom in advertising, but for companionship and ultimately, his family. Money and power aren't sufficient friends when you’re lonely.
Dan’s college-aged daughter Alex, played by Scarlett Johansson in one of her more forgettable roles, catches Carter’s eye and the “forbidden romance” which can be seen coming from a mile away, regrettably runs its course. This is probably the weakest link of In Good Company, because of its utter irrelevance and Johansson’s less-than-effective portrayal.
Luckily though, Weitz spends more time on the important things, and the Carter/Alex storyline, which seems to be scribbled in at best, is the only thing that sidetracks his film. Plus, Weitz still has that great sense of humor, which has charmed us in the past. Laughs last a long time—they aren’t easily killed when the scene changes, and that’s because they are built on sincere human emotion. (And there are lots of them.)
The parallelism between Dan, the middle-aged man who has everything that matters in life, and Carter, the kid who has everything that society tells him matters in life but nothing that really does, is so obvious, a third grader could write a paper on it. But that’s what’s so clever about Weitz – he has made something extremely accessible, without abandoning its depth and intelligence (he did the exact same thing in About a Boy).
In Good Company is a hopeful movie that takes advantage of the fact that it’s a movie; Weitz toys with timing, and convenient coincidences. And he certainly doesn’t shy away from poetic justice, blatant metaphors, or the indictment of corporate greed.
But whenever In Good Company threatens to lose its footing in the ideals (and plot devices) it wears on its sleeve, Weitz keeps our attention by grounding the film in ordinary characters and a less-than-glamorous depiction of corporate America. It’s a solid screenplay really, with plenty of “crowd-pleasing” moments, but not too many to undermine the film’s integrity as a conscious, relevant film.
It’s interesting how comparable Quaid and Grace are to the characters they play. An older, experienced actor who began his career in the 70’s, sharing equal screen space with a young up-and-comer who has only been in the biz for about six years. And the two are brilliant together. The back-story of a character is told in a performer’s eyes (notice how close-ups are used so effectively), not in the script, which is why the two leads here are deserving of tremendous accolades.
Carter and Dan’s mutual understanding of each other offset their inheritably contentious relationship, and make for a very touching story of father and son.The Oscar contenders are gradually leaving the theatres, so be grateful for this one, because although it isn’t in good company (unless you really liked Fat Albert and White Noise), don’t be fooled, because it’s a great movie. If only Scarlett Johansson had been sliced out, or made to matter.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11369&reviewer=369
originally posted: 01/16/05 02:01:52