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Archive for Friday, January 14, 2005

In Good Company’ a clever social critique

January 14, 2005

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There's a cameo in "Ocean's Twelve" where Topher Grace plays himself as a bratty, self-important actor apologizing to Brad Pitt for trashing his property after an all-nighter. In reference to "In Good Company," he tells Pitt, "I totally phoned in that Dennis Quaid movie."

The real joke, however, is that that Dennis Quaid movie is way more fun than "Ocean's Twelve."

"In Good Company" has an unfortunate and bland title but is blessed with solid performances from its two lead actors and a funny, insightful script from director Paul Weitz. Like Weitz' last effort, the Oscar-nominated "About a Boy," the film sparkles with sharp humor and a finely tuned empathetic feel. With two solid dramatic comedies under his belt, Weitz could become as reliable as Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous") to deliver smart laughs in a genre that all too often insults an audience's intelligence.

Quaid is perfectly cast as Dan Foreman, a 51-year old veteran of ad sales who believes so strongly in his magazine that he leaves his clients with a copy to peruse rather than try to give them the hard sell. It sells itself, he says, and he truly believes that the client's business will increase if they buy ad space. That kind of old-fashioned approach is challenged when 26-year old hotshot Carter Duryea becomes Dan's boss after a takeover, preaching corporate catch phrases like "synergy," which was the film's original title.

On the surface, Carter is a successful young man rising quickly in a behemoth of a company that places rhetoric and hard-lined profit over compassion and hands-on experience. He is an executive on the fast track to success, but Grace gives Carter more than a touch of insecurity, equally balanced with a self-effacing attitude. "In Good Company" plays to both of its lead actors' strengths. Grace is uniquely suited to his role, rescuing what could have been an overly harsh character with self-deprecating wit. And Quaid is finally allowed to carry a film without being overshadowed by action sequences and special effects.

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), standing, discovers his boss, Carter
Duryea (Topher Grace), lunching with his daughter, Alex (Scarlett
Johansson), in "In Good Company," a comedy from writer/director
Paul Weitz.

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), standing, discovers his boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), lunching with his daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), in "In Good Company," a comedy from writer/director Paul Weitz.

Around the same time Carter realizes he may be climbing the company ladder with blinders on, he further complicates the already uncomfortable situation by falling in love with Dan's college freshman daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johannson). It's easy to see why Johannson was cast. She radiates a maturity well beyond her years and is a convincing love interest for someone eight years her senior. But the role itself is the film's only underwritten element, and Johannson doesn't have that much to do.

Otherwise, Weitz is on sure footing as he navigates tricky territory. Instead of playing the "young boss switcheroo" premise for cheap laughs, he explores the development and maturity of two men at different points in their lives with surprising poignancy. "In Good Company" is not content to rely on the sitcom-esque set-up of young and old mismatched co-workers. It probes deeper, allowing its characters to reconsider their lives against a backdrop of industry practice that is becoming more of a reality every day.







Yes, the story is timely. In today's big business climate, giant companies are swallowing up smaller ones all the time. And with monster companies owning several smaller brands, corporate America these days is like an incestuous family of rabbits. "In Good Company" scrutinizes the practice where one man's livelihood can be threatened for reasons out of his control, and it does so without becoming heavy-handed. It's a clever little social critique wrapped up in a light and rewarding comedic confection.

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