By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
In Good Company
3 1/2 stars
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger; written and directed by Paul Weitz
Rated PG-13 (for some sexual content and drug references)
Most coming-of-age stories follow a typical pattern: the young and naive lead character is thrown into a new situation or experiences new or dangerous things to become a ‘real’ man or woman in a trite and generally predictable fashion.
In Good Company strays from this cookie-cutter format, but it remains a coming-of-age story in the sense that its main characters all are forced to examine their lives, trying to find the ultimate importance in them and a reason to continue on.
The film opens with comparative scenes of the lives of two men: Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) and Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Dan is a 51-year-old advertising executive who wakes up early, comes home late and sacrifices whatever he needs to for the benefit of his loving family. Carter is a 26-year-old corporate whiz kid who schmoozes his way up the ranks of companies and is able to sell most any product to most anyone. As fate would have it, Dan is demoted from his position when the company Carter works for buys out the magazine Dan works for in a corporate takeover. Carter lands Dan’s job despite knowing nothing about advertising.
Dan now works for someone half his age with no experience in the field, and the timing of the demotion could not have been worse. His oldest daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), wants to transfer to NYU, which is considerably more expensive than her current school, and his wife (Marg Helgenberger) tells him she is pregnant with their third child, another mouth to feed who won’t be 21 until Dan is 73. Nevertheless, he puts on a good face for his family, taking out a second mortgage to pay for everything.
Carter is all about the bottom line, focusing on increasing productivity of ad sales by 20 percent, firing employees he considers dead weight, charming those he meets to detract from his inexperience.
Unfortunately for him, he is so focused on a larger goal down the road he can’t see what he has in front of him-a seven-month marriage falling apart. On his way home from buying a brand-new Porsche, his unhappy wife, Kimberly, tells him she’s leaving him, a breakup he later said he saw coming since their second date. He soon starts sleeping at the office and desiring companionship, eventually inviting himself to Dan’s house for dinner one night. He’s on the rebound but doesn’t know it, and this is where he is reintroduced to Alex, whom he met on an elevator his first day on the job.
Carter sees the joy Dan has in his life with his family, as well as his passion for his business, and envies him. They learn to tolerate and even like each other, as they grow to depend on the other.
Eventually, when Alex is off at school and Carter has moved into a new apartment, the two are reunited and begin a romance that remains a secret for, of course, only so long.
The intensity at the magazine culminates between Dan and Carter because of this relationship as well as the characters’ re-evaluation of what they think is important in life. They all are forced to be honest with themselves and with the ones they love, an act so simple they didn’t realize they had been overlooking it.
The film rarely strays into the predictable except slightly with the romance between Carter and Alex, but even that is not a storybook love. Dan does make a semi-climactic speech at work to the head of the company about traditional methods of the job and integrity, but the moment does not escalate to the point of a slow clap.
For the most part, In Good Company isn’t traditional and doesn’t supply huge resolutions at the end as audiences would hope for, and that is what makes it worth watching.
The only solution it does offer for life is simply to live it. It calls the characters to not worry about what they thought they would turn out to be in life, or wished they would be, but rather focus on who they are and accept it for what it is. If they aren’t being fulfilled, they should seek a different route, learning to be content with circumstances.
Dan, Carter and Alex all change throughout the film, sometimes behaviorally and sometimes in more subtle ways. Writer and director Paul Weitz (About a Boy) pays close attention to detail, even in costumes and make-up, to express these changes. As she moves away from home, Alex transitions from baggy, “sporty” clothes with her hair pulled into a tight ponytail to dresses and lipstick.
The casting department seemed to take the actors’ careers into account for this project. Their development of actors is mimicked in the development of their characters, with all three trying to reinvent themselves. Quaid has made a comeback in recent years with the second half of his career largely outweighing his earlier years in terms of quality, Grace is transitioning from a comic television star into a leading man of film, and Johansson is reinventing herself into a leading lady and away from child-star roles.
All three shine in the film, a story that cannot be categorized as either a comedy or a drama. In Good Company presents a realistic slice of life without agenda or overwrought predictability.