Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace in Universal Pictures' In Good Company - 2004
Photo Copyright Universal Pict
There is a touching moment near the end of this week's film, In Good Company, when Dennis Quaid's character and Topher Grace's character hug, and you can tell that one is really hanging on for dear life - that this moment will prove whether he has the strength and courage to cast off and see where life takes him. It's an especially beautiful moment in a film full of beautiful little moments - an unexpected description of a movie that looked, from the previews, anyway, to be a slightly above average situation comedy. Instead, filmmaker Paul Weitz proves that 2002's brilliant About a Boy wasn't just a fluke and that he has finally put American Pie behind him.
Dennis Quaid is Dan Foreman, head of sales for the super successful magazine Sports America. He's got two daughters, a wife who loves him, and a staff of adoring salespeople. Things are going well for Dan, who works hard, plays fair, and treats others with respect at all times. And then the bottom drops out. Huge multinational corporation Globecom has just bought the magazine and things are shaking up. Suddenly people are being canned and Dan is no longer sales manager. Enter Carter Duryea, played well by up and coming star Topher Grace, a young business school hotshot out to show his corporate handlers that he has what it takes to run with the big boys. Now this 26-year old phenom is the boss and Dan is to be his "wingman." Add to the mix Dan's eldest daughter Alex, it-girl Scarlett Johansson, who, wouldn't you know it, develops a romance with recently divorced Carter.
Didn't I say it sounds like a situation comedy? Kind of one of those, "let's throw a bunch of dysfunctional situations into the mix, shake them up, and see what happens." And in Adam Sandler's world, that's exactly what it would be, but In Good Company is about far more than funny little tidbits and uncomfortable encounters. It is, at heart, a character study about relationships. Father to son, father to daughter, friend to friend. It's about the mentor relationship and all the baggage that that entails. Paul Weitz, who wrote as well as directed the film, crafts the father/son relationship especially poignantly, as he does in all his films, and it's this element that steers the movie clear of the rocky shores of "romantic comedy." The scenes with Dan and Carter underscore all the pain of aging and the fear that the rising younger generation inspires, while also highlighting the crippling fear that those rising stars live with each day. Am I a fraud, a sham? Am I going to be found out for what I am and will this whole house of cards come crashing down around me? Dennis Quaid, who is especially good, plays the role of reluctant, bitter tutor with great subtlety, proving once again that he is one of the most underappreciated actors of his generation. Topher Grace holds his own admirably, combining rare comic timing with a heartbreaking loneliness. It's from that fear and pain and bitterness, however, that comes the growth of character that makes a film like Company so surprisingly thoughtful and enjoyable.
Though the romance angle does not overwhelm the production, it plays a significant role, and Scarlett Johansson, fresh off the success of Lost in Translation, does a wonderful job as the object of our main characters' affections, both paternal and romantic. It's a relatively lightweight role, but in her typical subtle and almost lugubrious way, she gives it significant heft.
In Good Company joins the ranks of those marvelous little films that refuse to take a category, because fitting into a neat little marketing niche is not what they are about; films like High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Rushmore, films whose job it is to shine a light of the lives of real people, real characters whose little dramas play out across the screen with very little in the way of complex machinations. Sure, Globecom is a pretty obvious device for criticizing our massive and unwieldy corporate culture, but the real success is that the film doesn't take the bait This isn't Secret of My Success or any other of a legion of substandard David-and-Goliath corporate comic capers. It's the characters that provide the backbone of this fine film, not heroes and villains, and that puts it in good company, indeed. Grade: A-
In Good Company is rated PG-13 for language and adult themes.
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