In Good Company
In Good Company

USA, 2004. Rated PG-13. 109 minutes.

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall, Selma Blair, Frankie Faison, Ty Burrell, Kevin Chapman, Amy Aquino, Malcolm McDowell
Writer: Paul Weitz
Original Music: Stephen Trask
Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
Producers: Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz
Director: Paul Weitz


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

“In a holiday movie season up to its neck in darkness, this nimble comedy is a welcome respite.”

—David Ansen, Newsweek

I t's bad form to pick on fellow critics, but in his praise, Ansen unintentionally puts his finger on everything that's wrong with writer/director Paul Weitz's In Good Company. There's no darkness in this drama that seeks to address aging, fatherhood, greed, the growing superficiality and impersonality of the modern workplace, and, well, loads of other things that are pretty dang dark. As the world becomes larger, faster, more technological, and more dehumanized, people struggle every day to survive without losing their individuality or compromising their morals. In Good Company wants to wrestle with all that, but it also wants to be a feel-good movie. That's what makes it fundamentally dishonest.

In Good Company does feel pretty good, though.

Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid
Topher Grace (left) and Dennis Quaid star in the Paul Weitz comedy/drama In Good Company.

The story concerns middle-aged advertising sales executive Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), whose publication, Sports America (think Sports Illustrated), is taken over by a huge conglomerate. The evil corporate raiders then demote Dan and install a twenty-six year old boss who knows nothing about sports publishing, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace of P.S. and Fox TV's That ‘70s Show). Sensing in Dan a Wise Father Figure, Carter recasts Dan as his “awesome wingman,” while at the same time romancing Dan's daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson).

Johansson, who impressed in Lost in Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and A Love Song for Bobby Long, makes no mark in this film, but it's not her job to do so. That task belongs to Quaid and Grace, who sparkle as their characters labor to establish a workable dynamic. The lighthearted handicraft of Paul Weitz (who with his producer brother was behind American Pie and About a Boy) evidences itself in the gracefully sharp dialogue, which, combined with the excellent chemistry between Grace and Quaid, creates numerous moments of pleasant laughter.

Yet those moments don't add up to much. Too often the film is content to get by on the charm of the actors—particularly Grace, who in this film seems in training to become the American Hugh Grant—and of course, Quaid has that awfully likeable smile. Likeability can work against drama, though. Carter really should be a slick sleazeball, given that he's the chosen protégé of Nasty People. Instead, Weitz conceives Carter as floundering, insecure, and in way over his head. Carter announces as much to Alex on the elevator at the beginning of his first day of work. Because he doesn't realize that Alex is Dan's daughter, it's a funny moment, but it's also Weitz's way of begging you to like Carter immediately, heading off the potentially negative audience effect of his designated jerk role at Sports America.

All the supporting characters are unforgivably underwritten clichés. Weitz gives us the Asshole Corporate Shark, the Good Wife, and the Hardworking, Conscientious Middle-Aged Schlubs devoted to principled sales ethics that haven't been alive since the Fifties, if ever they were. You have to wonder if Weitz has ever actually visited the ad sales department of a major sports magazine. They tend to be staffed by not by aging working stiffs, but by hungry young guns.

In Good Company meanders back and forth among the romance between Carter and Alex, Dan's home life, and the office politics, adding running time without building dramatic tension until its ho-hum, sitcom-like denouement. The film might have been better served by cutting Alex completely and concentrating on the relationship with Carter and Dan, which has the most dramatic potential. Grace and Johansson chip in a few laughs, but they don't create sparks, thus contributing to the overall flabbiness of the film.

But that's just the opinion of a cranky reviewer. In Good Company is a perfectly enjoyable movie. It's just not much of one.

Review © January 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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