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In Good Company

Writer-director Paul Weitz's original title for In Good Company (2004) was Synergy — a word that's a bit of a running joke in the script, and a title he only dropped after some of his friends told him they'd think it was a sci-fi flick. Nonetheless, while Weitz may have achieved notoriety for collaborating with his brother Chris on the American Pie franchises, later co-directing Nick Hornby's About a Boy (2002), with his first solo effort he reveals that he's a talented, thoughtful filmmaker in his own right. Dennis Quaid stars in In Good Company as Dan Foreman, the advertising director of New York-based Sports America, and a man whose life is about to be tipped upside-down — not long after learning that his magazine's parent company is about to be acquired by international media corporation Globecom, his wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) informs him that she's pregnant. At 51, Dan is optimistic, and the aging jock does little to hide the fact that he's hoping for a boy. However, his obligations to his growing family — which also includes his 18-year-old daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) — are offset by tumultuous changes in the workplace. Sales executive Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who previously specialized in cell phones, has been appointed the new head of sales at Sports America, and despite the fact that he's just 26, he arrives at his new job to discover that he's replacing a man nearly twice his age. His (over-caffinated) confidence appears boundless, but it isn't long before Carter realizes he's in over his head — his brief marriage is on the skids, he has no experience in publishing, and his immediate superior has ordered layoffs. Professional friction between Carter and Dan is all but assured, but when Carter — stricken by abject loneliness — invites himself over to the Foremans' home for an impromptu dinner, he's immediately smitten with Alex, who's abandoned a half-hearted tennis career to study creative writing at NYU. A clandestine romance blossoms between the two — made all the more awkward by the fact that Alex's new boyfriend just happens to be her dad's new, young, incompetent boss.

*          *          *

While In Good Company succeeds as an engaging blend of comedy and drama (which writer-director Weitz prefers to call "human comedy" rather than the dreadful portmanteau "dramedy"), one is struck immediately by how accurately it captures the milieu of modern corporate America. The art direction is drawn broadly, if cleverly — Globecom executives wear dark suits, while the Sports America office favors separates, with Dan first appearing in a plaid blazer — but few films capture the nature of corporate interdynamics as well as this one, not only in terms of the politic codespeak of the working world, but also in the empty phraseology that is endemic to corporate planning, and particularly when it comes to employment anxiety in the face of downsizing. Anyone who has worked in a large corporate environment for any length of time will immediately recognize the canvas Weitz paints on. However, it's not just the accuracy of his writing that makes In Good Company shimmer on the screen — the cocktail-napkin concept leads to a nuanced film that retains comic elements throughout. And, as with all good stories, the richness is derived from carefully drawn characters. One wants to dismiss the young Carter Duryea as a corporate overachiever who understands the system more than he understands how to manage sophisticated profit-centers, but Weitz's script does not write him off — he's far more pathetic than despicable, and after he's so gangly and awkward around Alex, he earns our rooting interests despite his swift, shallow current. Too young to formulate effective value-judgments about himself or anything else, he's a victim of his ambition, eager to ape the trappings of success, both capital and domestic. For this, Dan becomes a surrogate father — and while the older man's contempt for his younger superior is thinly veiled, Dan (unconsciously?) adopts paternal responsibilities, even going so far as to fire long-term employees, allowing Carter to avoid the unpleasant nature of the adult world. Scarlett Johansson fills out the dramatic triangle as the (even younger) woman with impossibly mixed loyalties, and while her performance is sound, in this instance she's upstaged by her two male counterparts. By now, Dennis Quaid has matured into one of Hollywood's most valuable leading men, evolving from the youthful hotshot seen in Breaking Away and The Right Stuff into a blustery, acerbic middle-age — his screen-presence is so formidable that one wishes every script he takes could be as good as this one. But if he's a presence, Topher Grace is the film's revelation. Few TV actors transition well into theatrical titles, and while Grace's filmography to this point is thin with supporting roles, In Good Company proves that his natural charisma belongs on the big format. Universal's DVD release of In Good Company features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Paul Weitz and Topher Grace sit for a commentary, which Weitz peppers with small, interesting details. Also included are seven brief behind-the-scenes featurettes, ten deleted scenes with optional commentary on a single reel (16 min.), and cast and crew notes. Keep-case.

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