In Good Company
It is fairly common place for a film to reflect the current economic times, to connect to the audience by playing on the difficulties that they face. In recent years many companies are downsized, a nice politically correct term to mean your job may not exist tomorrow. Other go through reorganizations, you may walk into work one day as a boss and leave later on as low man on the old org chart. This is the fate of Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), the head of advertising at a large sports magazine. After many years of hard work Foreman has achieved some degree of corporate success, a good salary, corner office and a staff. He faces the task of landing a difficult client, Eugene Kalb (Philip Baker Hall), one that will bring a good size account into the company coffers. Foreman world is about to crumble, at least in his eyes, the magazine he works for is sold and he now reports to a man almost half his age, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Soon, all those affectations of Foreman’s success now belong to this much younger man. To make matters worse Carter’s reputation as a corporate assassin, ruthless in his perchance for cleaning house with pink slips.
Dan finds himself in a situation that more an more men in their fifties find themselves, face the humiliation of demotion and reporting to a younger man because he takes his family responsibilities seriously. He has a wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger), mortgage and children, including a daughter of college age, Alex (Scarlett Johansson). As if this is not enough angst for any one man Dan finds a positive pregnancy test, assuming it belongs to Alex. He also discovers that his daughter is now dating his new, young boss.
This film works largely because it does not take the easy, purely comical approach to the topic of corporate fears and working for a younger boss. It takes enough time to develop the characters and create situations that highlight their contrasts. While Dan is losing his position in the firm he does maintain a loving relationship with his wife and to some degree his family. Carter on the other hand is isolated before he meets and begins to date Alex. He is divorced from his wife Kimberly (Selma Blair), in order to rise so rapidly in the ranks of the corporate hierarchy he found his only companion is his fish. Carter soon finds his relationship with Alex means growing as a human being and accepting that an older man such as her father is valuable not only as a corporate asset but as a man or true values. We also get to see Morty (David Paymer), one of the victims of the layoffs, unlike Dan he was denied the option of a lower position, he finds himself not only out of a job but at his age completely unemployable.
There is an emotional heart to this film that transcends the basic premise. There are moments that can touch the audience even if they are fairly secure at work. Alex is in that transactional time where daddy’s little girl is all too rapidly becoming an independent young woman. As a father of an almost twenty one year old daughter this sub plot rang very true. A father of a daughter faces the conundrum of wanting his child to grow into an adult but at the same time fearing her falling in love with another man. Having that man be the one that just took your job just rubs salt in the wound.
Besides the well constructed story what really helped this film work for me was the excellence of the cast. Dennis Quaid not only is a talented actor he possesses that rare quality of appealing to both sexes. To men he is the guy next store, a man that you would enjoy a game on television and throw back a few beers with. For the ladies he has aged well, retaining that famous bad boy grin that has served him well over the course of his notable career. Quaid is able to covey the fears of a fifty one year old man without coming across as heavy handed. He dutifully accepts the reversals that life has brought with dignity and compassion. Sure he gets angry, what man in this position wouldn’t but he rises above his initial reaction for the sake of his all important family. Scarlett Johansson has become more than one of the constant plethoras of beautiful young actresses; she has talent that is palpable. Like some of the actresses of the golden age of Hollywood Johansson as undeniable screen presence. While this role does not exhibit the depth of her talent as did ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ or the incredible ‘Lost in Translation’ the true measure of her talent is she commands any role she takes on. She is able to get men like myself that identifies more with the father character to understand just where Alex is in her life. Since most people only know Topher Grace from his starring role in the hit television sit-com The 70’s Show, you may not realize that he is a young man with considerable talent. He can not only play the laughs well but he can hold his own in the more dramatic moments, working well with the more seasoned Quaid. His chemistry with Johansson is good enough to make this film work as a romantic comedy but his over all abilities push the film beyond the normal faire of this genre.
Paul Weitz has grown a lot since his hit freshman film, American Pie. Although he retained his oddball humor he has now matured into a place in his career where he can temper this humor with a realistic look at life. He paces this film to perfection. Weitz affords enough time for the audience to get to know the characters. This is important since if an emotional connection cannot be made the film would have failed. Instead Weitz draws you in, not only to the predicament of Dan but also what is going on in the lives of Carter and Alex. His use of the wonderful character actor David Paymer gives a sense of reality to the film, a well appreciated balance. Weitz also has a great command of camera work. His composition of each frame provides a good degree of detail without losing focus of the main action.
Universal has done a good job of bringing this gentle film to DVD. The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1, providing an excellent spectrum, well balanced and full. The rear speakers are mostly used for ambience and even that comes across in a natural manner. The film is presented in both pan and scan and anamorphic widescreen. Forgot the P&S abomination, this film was framed too well for some technician to hack apart. The color palette is not a soft as most romantic comedies. There is a balance between the colors that gives a natural feel to the film. For extras there is an amusing commentary track featuring Weitz and Grace. They offer some anecdotes surrounding the film’s production. There are also some deleted scenes with director’s comments to fill things out a bit. This is a film worth owning, one the whole family can enjoy, each member of the family will take away something different but all will enjoy it.