In Good Company (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Universal Pictures is touting In Good Company as being "from the producers of About a Boy." While that's a true enough statement, let's not forget that the team of Chris and Paul Weitz were also responsible for the popular American Pie series. Their latest, In Good Company, is more in line with the tamer, PG-13 rated Hugh Grant movie. There are no naked women and the sex/gross-out quotient is way down. In fact, the only ribald moment comes when Dennis Quaid's Dan Foreman expresses his feelings about a surprise birthday party his wife throws for him.

Despite a static plot where little happens, In Good Company has two strengths to recommend it: strong character interaction and a viciously accurate depiction of the modern corporate philosophy. The film's perspective of how things work in today's boardrooms is savagely accurate. People are viewed as disposable assets who are "let go" when salary has to be cut to meet a bottom line. Shortsighted greed has replaced a long-term view of steady growth. This "slash and burn" philosophy permeates corporate America - you are useful only for as long as you are helping keep the company in the black. Falter, no matter how important your contributions have been, and you're gone. In Good Company captures this viewpoint in a manner that reflects both the absurdity and poignancy of the situations it creates.

It used to be that going to work was like visiting a second family. Co-workers often socialized. Now, however, the workplace has become like a fox-hole, where people are bound together by a bunker mentality: survive so you can collect another pay check. Yet the self-preservation instinct is strong. When someone is laid off, there are usually three reactions: anger at the injustice of it all, sadness at the blow to the person who is impacted, and relief that it's not you. There's a scene in the film that encapsulates this. When two of Dan's colleagues are fired, Dan angrily confronts his boss. He is then informed that the others can keep their jobs if he gives up his. Faced with that choice, he backs down.

It's not usual in corporate America to be working for a young hotshot who may be 20 or 30 years the junior of seasoned employees. That's what happens when Sports America magazine is taken over by Worldcom. Dan, who was previously the Sales Director, becomes the "wingman" to 26-year old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who knows more about synergy than sales, and couldn't bring in a new customer if his life depended on it. Carter is basically a nice guy, but he has no experience outside of business school and the boardrooms of Worldcom. And, since his wife of seven months walked out on him, he's feeling lonely. It's nothing to him to bring in his entire team on a Sunday afternoon. He has nothing to do, so he assumes the same to be true of everyone else in the office.

That's when Dan makes the mistake of jokingly inviting Carter to have dinner with his family. It's an offer that the younger man seizes like a drowning man grasping for a hand. After meeting Dan's pregnant wife, Ann (Marg Helgenberger), and teenage daughter, Jana (Zena Grey), Carter becomes dazzled by the idea of domestic bliss. But the one to really attract his attention is Alex (Scarlett Johansson), who's about to start school at NYU and is willing to embark upon a fling with her dad's boss. But Carter is more emotionally vulnerable than Alex suspects.

Much has been written about the "breakout" performance by Topher Grace. While there's no denying the actor's charm, appeal, and screen presence, I thought he was more impressive in the little-seen P.S., in which he played Laura Linney's young lover. In this movie, there's good chemistry between Grace and love interest Scarlett Johansson, who has never failed to give an impressive performance. Perhaps the real surprise is Dennis Quaid. Following a number of lackluster roles, Quaid has finally found one that fits, and he excels in it. It's a strong performance dramatically and comically, and recalls why Quaid once flirted with being an A-list star. In Good Company also features nice supporting turns by Marg Helgenberg and David Paymer (as one of Dan's co-workers). There are also cameos by Selma Blair (as Carter's soon-to-be-ex-wife) and an uncredited Malcolm McDowell (as Teddy K., the mogul of corporation-gobbling Worldcom).

As was true with About a Boy, the Weitz brothers concoct a formula that mixes solid drama with a few good laughs. The comedy isn't forced or awkward. It fits in as a natural part of the script, and that's why it works. Many of the movie's central ideas will connect with viewers, especially those with experience working for companies that have become pawns in the corporate takeover game. In Good Company offers a reminder that the only thing harder than watching a friend go while a hotshot know-it-all takes his place is going yourself. And it's in their representation of this reality that the Weitzs find a nugget of harsh truth in a midst of an otherwise genial dramatic comedy.

In Good Company (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2005-01-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1