In Good Company

on December 29, 2004 by Wade Major
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Post-holiday audiences in search of respite from effects-laden biopics, epics and familial ephemera will find their grail in the refreshingly humanistic charms of "In Good Company," another first-rate comedy from the writing/directing team of Chris and Paul Weitz, the Oscar-nominated siblings behind "About a Boy."

Better known in some circles for directing "American Pie" to global success, it's the Weitzes' subsequent "About a Boy" that revealed their more personal side with a winning blend of winsome wit and sardonic drama. "In Good Company" is cut from the same cloth, though this time it's Paul performing solo writing and directing chores with Chris taking only a producing credit. The timely story centers around 51-year-old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), the longtime head of ad sales at a weekly sports magazine, and the midlife crisis engendered by his demotion in the wake of a corporate merger. Suddenly, Dan finds himself having to answer to a new boss -- an ambitious 26-year-old named Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) whose segue into the magazine biz is based entirely on his success at having marketed cell phones to children. Not that Dan's ego is necessarily bruised -- he's too busy worrying about layoffs among his sales team, the blossoming sexuality of his college-age daughter (Scarlett Johansson) and the unexpected pregnancy that's about to make him and wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) middle-aged parents. But the chasm between wisdom and experience on the one hand and blindly exuberant ambition on the other creates conflicts that move quickly from a simmer to a boil, amplified by the sudden, though not unexpected, disintegration of Carter's marriage.

There's an undeniably formulaic quality to the film -- anyone who doesn't see the character arcs and reversals coming a mile away probably hasn't seen many movies. But, to his credit, writer/director Weitz recognizes that fact and doesn't try to hide it with false-feeling contrivances. Instead, he delivers characters that feel real and credible, human and lucid. Even Grace, who is fast mastering a kind of endearingly neurotic persona, reigns it in ever so slightly to let viewers peek inside the sad soul of a frightened young man saddled with far more than he can possibly handle -- both professionally and personally.

Ostensibly, "In Good Company" is a movie about the soulless way in which many a corporate merger leaves a trail of broken lives in its wake. But Weitz's focus on character takes the upper hand here, too, giving audiences not so much a choice between the proverbial corporate greed and human need as between two different kinds of businessmen; two different approaches to life. Like "About a Boy," "In Good Company" is witty, earnest and honest -- deeply moving and life-affirming, yet never cloying nor sentimental. There's scarcely a false note to be found anywhere, and the fine cast makes the most of every precious word. Starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg and Philip Baker Hall. Directed and written by Paul Weitz. Produced by Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and drug references. Running time: 131 min

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