Paul Weitz’s “In Good Company” is one of a handful of Hollywood films currently getting a big push for Oscar season. And why not? It’s a good movie, with a sure script, some fine acting by the three leads, and even a timely premise to boot. Corporate downsizing is all over the news, fighting for position with corporate greed, multinational mergers, and people losing their jobs. The economy is shaky, and anyone who wears a suit and tie and carries a briefcase to work is a potential Ken Lay. But according to “In Good Company”, for every Ken Lay, there’s a man like Dan Foreman.
Dan Foreman is a good man with a good family, a beautiful wife, two daughters that he adores and protects with a passion, and a good job as a salesman for a sports magazine. Dan loves his job. He likes it because it allows him to make a comfortable living, care for his family, and at the same time help out businesses he knows can benefit from exposure in the magazine. All that changes when Dan’s company gets swept up in a hostile takeover by an infamous mogul named Teddy K (an uncredited Malcolm McDowell), and 26-year old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) arrives to take Dan’s job.
Since he’s not quite as sure of himself as he wants people to believe, Carter doesn’t fire Dan right away, but instead demotes him to his (Carter’s) “wingman”. With a third baby on the way, and oldest daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) wanting to transfer to a more expensive college and live in the city, Dan has to bite the bullet and swallow his pride. This includes firing his friends, including the neurotic Morty (David Paymer), whose home life is such that, now without a job, his wife not only wears the pants, but the suit and tie as well.
But things aren’t so rosy for the cocky Carter either, whose life immediately falls apart as soon as he gets the opportunity of a lifetime. His wife (Selma Blair in a cameo) dumps him, he wrecks his brand new Porsche, and he finds life lonely and miserable. He jogs in-doors on a treadmill, drinks Starbucks coffee by the barrel, and the job is becoming increasingly difficult the more time he spends with Dan, who shows Carter a new side of life, and business, that he never knew existed. The son of a neglectful mother and an absent father, Carter has been waiting all his life for someone like Dan to come along and teach him what it means to be a man. Dan Foreman, 51-years old and holding dearly onto a job he loves, is just the teacher Carter needs.
“In Good Company” is a good movie, with good performances from Dennis Quaid as the supremely decent Dan Foreman. Scarlett Johansson continues to make great decisions, turning what could have been an insignificant role into something more. There’s just something about the young woman, the way she’s capable of playing mature and world-weary, that grabs you. See, kids? This is the kind of career you can have too if you just read the script first and don’t believe everything your agent says. Marg Helgenberger, taking a break from the curiously mega-popular “CSI”, is fine as the wife/mom.
The only wild card is Topher Grace. Coming off the hit TV show “That 70’s Show”, Grace still retains a lot of his TV persona — the smart aleck with an arsenal of disarming grins, irrelevant smirks, and enough quips for an army of prefab smart-alecky TV kids. Even so, Grace gets his moments to shine, and thanks to Paul Weitz’s script, Grace shows that he can do smart-ass and moody equally well. While I’m not sure if Grace can ever become a big movie star, as he seems most at home in either the wise-acre or jokey supporting role, he couldn’t have picked a better movie to start off his career in feature films. Ashton Kutcher should be green with envy about now.
As he did with Hugh Grant’s “About a Boy”, writer/director Paul Weitz, one half of the Weitz brothers (“American Pie” and “Down to Earth”), has fashioned a movie with some laughs, but on the whole “In Good Company” is a movie with very old fashion sensibilities saddled with contemporary problems. The ending, where the audience gets denied an “everyone lives happily ever after” solution, works because the film has remained true to itself. There are some semi-Hollywood moments toward the end, but Weitz wisely sees no reason to sell his soul and tack on a gratuitous happy ending just for the sake of having one. In this case, the ending is just right.
The only nitpick I have is Malcolm McDowell’s Teddy K. Throughout the film, the name “Teddy K” is thrown around with regularity. Feared by most, revered by some, Teddy K is a bogeyman, and Weitz should have kept K, the man, under wraps for the entire film. As such, when Malcolm McDowell finally shows up in flesh and blood, a lot of the character’s infamy gets lost. The better way to approach the character would be to keep him in the background, especially since the idea of a Teddy K is more frightening than the actual man.
“In Good Company” could have been predictable and formulaic, but it isn’t. Oh sure, in reality Dan Foreman, with his steadfast decency, would never have survived in the corporate world as portrayed in the film. Then again, who knows? Not every business is an Enron, and sometimes good men do get rewarded. At least that’s what I, and apparently Paul Weitz, like to believe.
Paul Weitz (director) / Paul Weitz (screenplay)
CAST: Dennis Quaid …. Dan Foreman
Topher Grace …. Carter Duryea
Scarlett Johansson …. Alex Foreman
Marg Helgenberger …. Ann Foreman
David Paymer …. Morty
Clark Gregg …. Steckle
Malcolm McDowell …. Teddy K