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Review: In Good Company

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It happens all the time in all manner of businesses, from Hollywood backlots to sports fields to corporate boardrooms: seasoned, talented veteran with plenty of good years left gets pushed to the side in favor of hotshot rookie with none of the experience but all of the flash and promise. Our culture has never been one to venerate our elders. We’re youth-obsessed: we fight nature to keep ourselves looking young, we encourage our children to grow up faster and faster and faster, we favor the energy of smooth skin over the wisdom of wrinkles.

And such it is in Paul Weitz’ comedy In Good Company. Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) has been the sales manager at Sports America magazine for ages, but when the magazine’s parent company gets bought by multimedia congolmerate, he gets demoted in favor of inexperienced-but-connected Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Carter seems oblivious to the insult to Dan of discovering that his new boss is half his age; Carter may be a whiz with corporate syngery, but human relationships leave him a bit flummoxed.

In Good Company (2004)
Grade: A-
Written and Directed By: Paul Weitz
Starring: Dennis Quaid Topher Grace Scarlet Johansson
Studio: Universal

Grace shows tremendous poise in a difficult role: the audience has to like him and root for him even as he unintentioally makes Dan hate him, a feat which is made all the more difficult because we also like and sympathize with Dan. Grace has a naturally self-effacing quality to him which makes it easier to digest the materialistic, self-absorbed Carter, who’s almost always in salesman mode–even when his wife’s leaving him. The only person Carter feels able to open up around is the radiant college student Alex (the ever-wonderful Scarlett Johansson)–who also just happens to be Dan’s daughter.

Dan Foreman proves to be a perfect kind of role for the fifty-year-old version of Quaid. His perpertually boyish charm gets put to good use as a veteran salesman, one who understands that sales–and leadership–is as much about managing the relationships between people as it is any sort of corporate back-scratching. One can imagine finding it difficult to turn down a salesman like Dan Foreman, especially when he’s equipped with The Trademark Dennis Quaid Smile.

Dan’s character really struck close to home for me…perhaps a little too much so. Like Dan, I worry about one day being replaced in my job by some kid fresh out of college (though I’m more worried about fighting off kids able to my job for half the cost). Like Dan, I have two daughters (who happen to be of about the same relative ages as Alex and Jana), and I’ll be about Dan’s age when the older of my two girls (hopefully) goes off to college. And also like Dan, I’m overprotective of my kids: the look of distress on Dan’s face as he leaves Alex by herself at her college dorm for the first time was just about heartbreaking for me. And that need to shelter and protect his daughter was why I thought the movie’s ending hit just a little bit of an off note.

I’m not sure Dan’s acceptance of Carter as a “substitute son” was entirely earned. While Carter definitely grows as a person, largely thanks to Dan’s influence, and Dan most definitely notices and appreciates that growth, I don’t know if it was enough to justify Dan’s change of heart–especially since Carter had been sleeping with Dan’s daughter. Given just how overprotective Dan feels toward his girls, I think it would have taken much, much more for Carter to get past the defenses Dan would’ve thrown in his way. While I appreciated the ending and could completely accept Carter’s decision, I simply didn’t buy Dan still allowing Carter to be part of his life; Dan might not have wished Carter any ill will, but I honestly think that would have been the extent of the relationship.

That might be putting myself a little too much in the movie, however. Overall, the characters of In Good Company, much like those in writer/director Paul Weitz’ previous movie (the excellent About A Boy), behaved true to their natures rather than simply following traditional formulae–and that puts this movie in good company indeed.

Written by Allen

May 22nd, 2005 at 9:27 pm

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