For 25 years, Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) has been a leading ad sales representative for a popular sports magazine. When the company is taken over by a colder, greedier mega corporation, Dan finds himself working for 26-year-old Carter (Topher Grace, “Traffic”), with his job on the line. Carter is recently divorced and unsure of himself, but once he gets a whiff of Dan’s welcoming, functional home life (including Marg Helgenberger, “CSI”), he becomes envious, and attempts to develop a bond with his cautious and angry new employee. Complications arise when Carter secretly starts a relationship with Dan’s daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson, “Lost in Translation”), which pushes Dan to his outer limits on just how much humiliation he can take.
For a good chunk of “In Good Company,” the film surprises with its truthful depiction of the panicky horror that comes along with corporate restructuring. That time when age starts to be a factor in employment outlook, and the realization that losing your job could be the very end of your working years comes depressingly into view. That’s what makes “Company” such a riveting, straightforward movie. Writer/director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “About a Boy”) demonstrates a superb balance between the terrors of the real world and the warm suburban comedy “Company” is supposed to be. The audience feels the panic as Dan’s career is suddenly up for grabs, as well as the anxious need (fueled by Starbucks and ambition) to impress that consumes Carter. The film appears effortless and is often downright delightful as these two ages and business approaches are forced to blend in this new, awkward workplace arrangement. Weitz may be a clumsy craftsman when it comes to his camera (four movies into his career and his framing and shot choices are still clunky), and his reliance on a lilting acoustic guitar-driven soundtrack is enough to make you want to scream, but the foundation of honesty and comedy is there in “Company,” promising something delightful.
To insure the stamina of his material, Weitz has cast the film very well. As unlikely a pair as two male leads can get, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid have a blast in their uncomfortable roles, mining every character quirk they can get their hands on. I especially enjoyed Quaid’s performance, which takes full advantage of the emotional and especially the physical limitations that a 51 year-old is faced with. And Grace proves just as able, with a seemingly lightweight but deeply felt performance that is quite realistic outside of its comic intentions. Their work in “Company” is what keeps the film grounded in an easy, comfy feeling that can’t be manufactured. It takes talent to make the audience feel at ease watching horrible events unfold onscreen, with Quaid and Grace both contributing stellar, textured work.
However, “In Good Company” makes some very bad decisions in its final act. Some of the blame rests on Weitz’s shoulders, but it seems likely that the pandering suits at Universal Studios also played a major part in engineering the film’s weak finish. For most of the picture, “Company” delights in being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. After all, that’s life in a nutshell, and Weitz has clearly found an angle to this tale that can demonstrate vocational horror yet still find room for character and even some hefty comedy. Nevertheless, this desire to challenge himself falls by the wayside, and Weitz starts to file down the corners of his square pegs. “Company” soon succumbs to the worst audience pleasing moments a film can feature, including a shameful comeuppance for the “bad guy” (middling character actor Clark Gregg) of the film, and a climactic speech from Dan on the nature of losing humanity to corporate greed. Good points, but not for this movie. In pursuing a bizarre need to end the film with everybody finding his or her happy place (which is disgustingly unbelievable on top of being needless), Weitz loses control of his picture, and detonates a nuclear bomb on its integrity. This nearly terrific motion picture deserved a much more interesting resolution than to simply resemble every other film in the multiplex.Rating: B-