“In Good Company,” the first solo directorial effort by Paul Weitz of “The Weitz Brothers” fame, has the same tone as the brothers’ previous notables “About a Boy” and “American Pie.” Through all the laughter (and pie jokes) there lies a very touching, human story about family and about growing up. “In Good Company” touches on the same issues, yet delves deeper through solid screenwriting and great performances by Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid.
Carter Dureya (Grace) is an up and coming hot-shot on the corporate ladder. As his smug, creepy, Dockers wearing co-workers put on an air of arrogance mixed with a dastardly “it’s just business” attitude, we quickly see Carter is less confident. Even as he has his ego stroked by being informed that he’s being “groomed” for the big time, we sense that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Some kind of insecurity picks at him and he shoves it away by spending money to look his part.
Dan Foreman (Quaid) is the head of ad sales for a prominent sports magazine. He’s basically an honest ad guy who believes in what he sells which makes him an old school rarity in the world inhabited by Carter and his cronies. However, his world soon is inhabited by Carter and his cronies due to a corporate takeover that moves them in and leaves Dan and his office in a frenzy of who will be downsized first. Dan is confident as his ad sales team has always put up solid numbers, but this is 2005, people! Solid numbers aren’t good enough.
Before you can say “synergy,” Dan’s being moved out of his office and shuffled on down the hall as the less experienced Carter takes over the ad team. Dan isn’t let go, but he’s demoted and replaced by Carter who is literally half his age. Cutting to the chase, Carter soon finds himself in love with Dan’s daughter Alex (Johansson) as another level of Carter taking things away from Dan unfolds. Such is the plot for the seemingly clichéd and simple “In Good Company.” Yet the film is anything but clichéd even if some of the plot twists don’t really pay off as well as one would expect. Paul Weitz is able to walk the line between honesty and sappiness over and over and he does it to perfection in “In Good Company.”
This film is clearly paying homage to Billy Wilder’s masterpiece “The Apartment,” however it’s not doing it in a way that seems like you’re being ripped off. Topher Grace’s Carter is a perfect blend of affable honesty and goofy simpleton, much like Jack Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter character in “The Apartment.” In another similarity between the two films we see money, power and moving up in big business play a major role, but the challenge of being a loving, caring human being interferes in that ascent. While many themes between the films are similar, “In Good Company” builds on those set by “The Apartment” rather than mimics them and that’s one thing that helps make the film so enjoyable. Another is that, as simple as the story is (younger man replaces older man in job and then begins romancing his daughter) Grace’s performance as well as Quaid’s are just too good to be ignored.
Having never been a fan of televisions “That 70’s Show” (I blame the “ Ashton Kutcher Factor”), my experience with Topher Grace has been limited to his “Oceans 11” and “Traffic” roles. However the guy simply steals the show here. He’s at once goofy and hammy, yet so lost, sad and sensitive you buy into his performance from the get go. Quaid is also solid as a down to earth guy who wants nothing more than to provide for his family and make an honest living.
Let us not leave out the amazing Scarlett Johansson who also turns in a simple, yet honest performance that plays perfectly in context with Grace and Quaid. Her portrayal of teen tennis-queen Alex never seems whiny or forced. She never seems “torn” between daddy and the new guy or between figuring out what she wants as opposed to what her parents want. She’s simply a girl trying to figure out what to do with her life…as are the men in this story as well. Easily the biggest buzz factor in the film, Johansson plays it low-key and that’s a plus.
One quibble with the film is its use of music to “enhance” a scene. A few times, some Emo sounding song (or “refrain” from the theme) gets piped in and actually detracts from the scene. I enjoyed the instrumental refrain of Badly Drawn Boy’s theme to “About a Boy” when it played in that film, yet here the musical selection is too loud and distracting. However, that’s a tiny complaint when measured against the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from seeing such a good movie.