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Dustin Putman

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In Good Company (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Paul Weitz
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Zena Grey, Selma Blair, Philip Baker Hall, Frankie Faison, Ty Burrell, Amy Aquino, Kevin Chapman, Colleen Camp, Lauren Tom, John Cho, Malcolm McDowell
2004 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual situations and drug references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 15, 2005.

"In Good Company"—a generic title that makes far less sense than the original moniker, "Synergy"—is a slice-of-life so purely amiable and astute in its portrayal of the cutthroat corporate world that it is easy to overlook a great many flaws in its design. The film, which swimmingly drifts from slyly funny comedy to gently touching drama, is written and directed by Paul Weitz (2002's "About a Boy"), for the first time working without the hand of his director brother, Chris. Weitz stumbles over the occasional insignificant subplot that he treats with much more attention than it deserves, but he has an undeniable gift for capturing truthful human behavior in any given situation. Indeed, it is this valuable ability that makes "In Good Company" a little more savvy and a whole lot more memorable than its frothy tone otherwise might indicate.

When a corporate takeover of New York City-based magazine Sports America leaves several of its most hard-working employees out of a job, 51-year-old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is lucky to escape—just barely—the axe. For a long time the successful head ad exec for the magazine, Dan is suddenly demoted to becoming the "wing man" for 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), his much younger new boss and a novice who has never worked in sales before. To top it all off, Dan discovers that his wife, Ann (Marg Helgenberger), is pregnant with their first child in sixteen years. "So let me get this straight," says Dan. "When our kid is 21, I'll be 72." "73," Ann quickly corrects him.

Carter may seem to have it all, at least professionally, but he is a frightened child on the inside who knows next to nothing about his new job but has miraculously benefitted by (1) being young, and (2) being in the right place at the right time. When Carter's unhappy wife of only seven months, Kimberly (Selma Blair), picks up and leaves him, he is left with no one to turn to or share his success with. It is this reason why, when Dan sarcastically asks Carter if he would like to come home and have dinner with his family, Carter jumps at the invite. It is in the Foreman household—well, in the garage over a game of foosball—that Carter connects with Dan's oldest daughter, NYU-bound 18-year-old Alex (Scarlett Johansson). There is an almost immediate attraction, at first unspoken and then pursued by Alex, but their relationship is one that must be kept secret. After all, Dan is feeling as threatened as can be by Carter's place in the company, and finding out he is romancing his daughter would be like twisting a knife in his back.

Too much emphasis is deceptively placed on the romance between Carter and Alex during the middle section of "In Good Company" when, really, it has little bearing on the film's outcome. Besides, as written by Paul Weitz, their relationship comes off the most undernourished and forced because it is never clear why the two are so drawn to one another in the first place. Carter is eight years Alex's senior, and they don't seem to share much in common. This misstep in treating their slight love story as if it were an important plot thread is not the fault of actors Topher Grace (2004's "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!") and Scarlett Johansson (2004's "A Love Song for Bobby Long"), who share a warm chemistry together and with Dennis Quaid (2004's "The Alamo"), rounding out the central trio of characters as Dan Foreman.

As a glimpse into the workings of a high-powered company on shaky grounds, "In Good Company" thrives. Although a minimum is learned about Carter and Dan's actual jobs, the details brought to in-office politics and the role that ageism plays in today's work force rings true. Watch closely, for example, in a scene in which Dan offers to "let go" two of his co-worker buddies for Carter. Though no fault of his own, Dan is immediately blamed by one of them simply for being the bearer of bad news, while the other, the low self-esteemed Morty (David Paymer), resigns to his undeserved fate without fuss. Meanwhile, Dan sort of bonds with Carter, a man he silently resents but cares enough about what he does to offer showing him the ropes.

Dennis Quaid is an established actor of unforced capability, and his role as Dan is one of the meatiest he has gotten in years. In certain ways, he is the person to which everything else rotates around, and it is with he that the picture's two most assured relationships involve. The first, between Dan and daughter Alex, comes off just right. There is a mutual respect for one another, yes, but also a real loving in the way Dan is willing to take out a second mortgage to send Alex to her dream school of NYU to study creative writing. Alex does not take this for granted, but also knows exactly why her romance with Carter should be the one thing best kept a secret from her father. In film after film, Scarlett Johansson has never failed to impress, and her winning streak continues here. Johansson's part is nicely written, if uncritical to the plot's development as a whole, and the actress does effervescent wonders with shaping and adding layers to Alex not seen on the scripted page.

The second strongly rendered relationship is between Dan and Carter, which builds significantly as the third act comes into play and they find themselves, much to their surprise, defending each other at the risk of both of their jobs. For Dan, being a sports ad executive isn't just a way to make money, but his passion in life. "If that wasn't the case, then why would I be doing it?" Dan asks Carter in a key scene near the end that makes Carter reevaluate where he is at in his own life. For Carter, his job isn't his passion—he's not so sure he even likes the business world at all—and it is this realization that paves the way for what happens next. The last few scenes of "In Good Company" hit all the right notes while remaining instinctive and natural to the way life evolves.

As Carter, Topher Grace is the standout in a role that could, and should, open more doors for him in the future. Grace, primarily known for TV's "That '70s Show," is perfectly cast as Carter Duryea, right down to his skinny physical frame, boyish face, and hesitant mannerisms. Carter is but a young man only a few years out of college who has suddenly found himself at the top of a very big pond, and Grace exudes the respective fear, uncertainty, and go-getter attitude of this character with few false notes.

"In Good Company" is not so much plot-centric as full of themes and observations on its work place subject matter. This gives the film a lightweight, unhurried feel, lacking in a driving force but enjoyable all the same because of the main performances. By comparison, some of the supporting players, such as Marg Helgenberger (TV's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") and Zena Grey (2004's "Stateside") as Dan's pregnant wife and 16-year-old daughter, Jana, and an otherwise very effective Selma Blair (2004's "A Dirty Shame") as Carter's soon-to-be-ex-wife, are negligibly handled. "In Good Company" loses its way on several occasions as it goes off on unneeded tangents, but where it ultimately leads and how Carter, in particular, finds himself there, makes the film a satisfying, hard-to-dislike choice for older viewers who prefer dialogue and realism over CGI effects and random explosions.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman