In Good Company

February, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Paul Weitz

Starring:Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlett Johansson

For most movies, a one word description spells disaster, and when that word is “good-natured”, the game’s usually over. But when applied to director Paul Weitz’s latest, the description is both accurate and heartfelt. Weitz, who’s given audiences popular successes like About A Boy and American Pie, isn’t about to storm onto Hollywood’s A-list of directors, but with Company he proves that he can fashion a pleasant way to spend a wintry afternoon. In doing so, he teams an old pro with a young neophyte to clever effect.

Dennis Quaid, (appearing in his 45th film in a 30 year career) plays Dan Foreman, a middle-aged marketing exec for a well established sports magazine that’s just been acquired by a financier somewhat to the left of Rupert Murdoch but to the right of The Donald. In an effort to wring more quick profits out the company, the new owner sends in Carter Duryea, (a 25 year old wunderkind at selling cell phones to kids) to take control of Dan’s department and spur its ad revenue growth. Carter, played by newcomer Topher Grace, doesn’t know his thus from his elbow about magazine ad sales, but it quickly becomes apparent that his real function is to gut the seasoned staff that Dan’s carefully assembled in order to hype the company’s earnings. 

Grace provides an impressive portrait of Carter, whose brash style and rah-rah behavior mask a basically decent young man in over his head and bereft of the wise counsel a corporate mentor might provide him. To make things worse, he’s given Dan’s old job and almost immediately takes up with Alex, (Scarlett Johansson) Dan’s college-bound daughter.  

Working from his own script, Weitz gets in some nice shots at the often mindless cost cutting that occurs in the wake of so many takeovers, and his ensemble cast—featuring Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Philip Baker Hall and a wonderfully droll Trump impersonation by Malcolm McDowell—works  smoothly with his three leads to lend a nice veneer of credibility to the proceedings. As Dan, Quaid turns in another of his Perry Como-like performances as an all American good guy who loves his wife and kids and his slot in the corporate hierarchy. John Cheever country this ain’t, but Quaid makes Dan’s initial frustrations and anger as naturally likeable as his almost over-the-hill pitcher was in The Rookie. Johansson doesn’t have a part here to match her recent work in Girl With The Pearl Earring and Lost In Translation and she’s further handicapped by an infatuation with Carter as inexplicable in its beginnings as it is in its inevitable collapse. Yet she’s always an interesting young actress to watch and her relationship with her father contains a knowing credibility rare in comedies of this type.

Pedestrian in its technical aspects, In Good Company succeeds because it doesn’t try too hard, making it a pleasant diversion without becoming a nuisance. If that’s damning with faint praise, wait until it’s out on DVD and see for yourself. 

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