In Good Company Review

Dennis Quaid and Scarlett Johansson star in a comedy about a successful middle-aged marketing executive who is unseated by a corporate takeover and forced to act as deputy to a man half his age… who falls head over heels for his daughter. Review by Kevin O’Reilly.

Corporate morality and the trials of white collar life are the subjects of the pleasingly grown-up comedy In Good Company. It stars Dennis Quaid as Dan Foreman, a fifty-ish family man who’s head of advertising sales at Sports America magazine. Dan’s good at his job and sales are up, so it seems all the more unfair when the magazine is taken over by media conglomerate Worldcom and Dan is demoted to make room for a rising executive from the new parent company. Of course he could always quit but the job market is tough when you’re over fifty and the timing couldn’t be worse – Dan’s wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) has just discovered she’s pregnant with their third child, while his eldest daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) has been accepted into NYU, one of America’s most prestigious (and expensive) universities.

To add insult to injury, Dan’s new boss turns out to be Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a 26-year-old hotshot barely out of business school. Carter means well but his knowledge comes mostly from books and he has little practical experience of selling ads. This puts Dan in the uncomfortable position of having to mentor the man who’s usurped his job. There’s also the awkward business of having to sit by while long-time colleagues and employees are “let go”, to use Carter’s gutless terminology. And all this is nothing compared to how he’ll feel if he discovers his new boss had started dating his daughter.

If last year saw a return to form for the dumb mainstream comedy (Dodgeball, Anchorman), this year has seen the smarter variant enjoy its own renaissance. The superb Sideways is deservedly riding high in the UK box office charts and, while In Good Company can’t reach the same heights, it’s not without intelligence or insight. It also has more balls than you might expect. The ingredients for an easy, formulaic movie are present but writer / director Paul Weitz, whose credits include the excellent About A Boy, refuses to settle for clichés.

The love story between Carter and Alex is especially well handled: a rare case of a movie romance that seems totally credible. I also like the way it’s a digression from the main story, a welcome change from conventional plot structuring. Alex could have been a plot device but, as played by Scarlett Johansson, she comes across as an interesting person in her own right – a tennis player coming to terms with having wasted much of her youth on a sport she’s not good enough to play professionally.

Carter could also have been one-dimensional – a villain, a buffoon or a smartass kid like Michael J Fox in The Secret Of My Success. Instead he’s a flawed human being with hidden depths, while good old Dan, the hero, is allowed to have major shortcomings of his own. Take the film’s best scene, which deals with the firing of two of Dan’s employees and friends. An outraged Dan asks why Carter doesn’t just fire him and Carter gives it to him straight and forces him to make the moral choice he’s tiptoeing around. Watch Dennis Quaid’s face when he’s breaking the bad news to the pair and one of the men says he knows Dan fought for him.

In Good Company is sympathetic to the people who work in corporations but not to corporate culture. Anyone who’s toiled in an office will wince in recognition at the inane inspirational speeches filled with bizarre management-speak, the school-like atmosphere with its bullies and its cliques, where you try to impress bosses instead of girls, and the grossly stupid decisions made by managers who don’t know what they’re doing… like taking middle-aged clients to a hip hop concert! In a nicely observed scene that sums up the absurdity of the boardroom, a long term client tells Dan he’s been ordered to cancel a mutually lucrative ad campaign because his parent company and Dan’s parent company are embroiled in a telecoms war on another continent.

While its shots frequently hit the target, this isn’t a business satire, it’s a movie about people and at its heart is the relationship between Dan and Carter, between a natural extrovert and a scared kid whose insincerity comes from his lack of confidence. Both parts have been cast superbly. Topher Grace is dazzlingly good – this film has rightly put him on the map – while Dennis Quaid anchors the film confidently with his easy charm. Quaid was one of Hollywood’s most undervalued stars for two decades and it’s good to see him finally achieving A-list status and landing roles like this. Is there a more likeable actor in the movies today?

Kevin O'Reilly

Updated: Feb 23, 2005

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