It seems a bit ironic that Universal — part of the ubiquitous Vivendi conglomerate — would release a film like “In Good Company,” a story about two men in vastly different stages of life and how synergy, a mindless corporate concept, affects them. Yet, the story’s backdrop proves to be effective and timely. By emphasizing assailable corporate characters mired deep in personal conflict, writer/director Paul Weitz (“About A Boy”) has created yet another film about the fragile nature of changing business culture.
Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) lives a comfortable suburban existence with a loving family and a cushy job as director of advertising sales for a sports magazine. But Dan’s existence is violently shaken when a media conglomerate purchases the magazine and he’s replaced by Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) — a man half his age. Dan is demoted and his co-workers are systematically laid off. As if job security wasn’t enough to worry about, Dan has plenty of other problems: his wife’s surprise pregnancy, financial difficulties and the revelation that his college-age daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) is dating his new boss.
Paul Weitz, who’s probably best known for co-directing “American Pie,” has made his most assured film yet. Weitz shows his strength as a writer of well placed comedy and natural dialogue, and successfully maligns the idiocy of mega-business. The filmmaker deftly allows the characters to develop at a steady pace, enabling their motivations to have a powerful effect. The movie wonderfully juxtaposes the differences and similarities between Carter and Dan. Weitz is able to draw sympathy from his two leading protagonists’ personalities and their unfortunate situations.
Unfortunately, the film falters a bit toward the end. Carter’s romance with Alex isn’t essential to the film’s central narrative. The subplot mainly serves as a bridge highlighting Dan’s bond with his daughter and illuminating the faults in Carter’s duplicitous personality. There is also a well-written, albeit predictable, speech about family from Dan during the film’s climax, but the moment seems extraneous and forced. The story’s conclusion is also far too tidy; Dan and Carter’s differences melt away inexplicably, as if their positions within the same conglomerate make them cosmic equals.
Despite these shortcomings, “In Good Company” works so well because of its two lead performances. Quaid turns in some of his best work, and he makes Dan a believable, heartfelt father and a likeable employee who must forfeit the ideals that brought him success in the first place. Grace continues his rise into stardom, demonstrating that he has real power as a dramatic actor by showcasing Carter’s insecurities and his superficial surface with ease. As the lone female lead, Johansson doesn’t do much at all — her character calls for a certain quietness and loneliness which she commands quite well, but her talents have been better utilized in other movies.
“In Good Company” proves to be a very welcoming and charismatic film, accurately showing just how impersonal and brutal the corporate world can be. Complete with some remarkable performances and a well crafted script, Paul Weitz is able to prove that the a mix of humility, loyalty and human interaction can be the greatest synergy of all.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars