Film — In Good Company (PG-13)

In Good Company (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Topher Grace says “who’s your daddy, Ashton Kucher” with a grown-up role in the sweet comedy In Good Company.

Yeah, it started out as an Ashton-centric world. The movies, the Demi dating, the Punk’d. But, 15 years from now, who’s going to have a career? The kid who learned how to make his EveryDorkness a cornerstone to Tom Hanksian success or the kid whose show came on after Cribs?

And, yes, Grace has the Hanks thing, the nice guy adrift in a modern world look of surprise and worry. But what makes Grace even more interesting than just his ability to play the pansy in a sea of romantic comedies 20 years hence is that he also has a sort of jitteriness, an ironic uneasiness that he used to full effect in cameos in Ocean’s 11 and 12 and in his supporting role as the druggie boyfriend of Michael Douglas’s character’s daughter in Traffic.

Here, he uses that experienced inexperience to full effect as Carter Duryea, a wienerheaded sales guy who is all pitch and no product. Through an appropriate amount of sycophancy, he manages to get a job of authority that suddenly throws him into contact with real people. The experience more or less leads to the total dissolution of his stylish yet completely cardboard existence.

Did I mention it’s a comedy?

Carter is the most enthusiastic and ambitious of yes-men. He participates in the pseudo-spontaneous and vigorous applause in honor of a distant corporate titan when it is announced that the man, Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell) has purchased a publishing company whose holdings include the comfortably profitable magazine Sports America.

That profitability has come, we are told, in large part because of the steady wisdom and even leadership of Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid). His life is oddly balanced — he works hard and genuinely cares about his clients and employees but also makes time for his family, which includes his beautiful and suddenly pregnant-again wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) and his beloved college-aged daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson). Unlike his anxiety-filled staff, he is largely unconcerned with his magazine’s sudden purchase by the corporate giant until he is told that he’s going to be demoted. Shaken by this news, he’s absolutely floored when he meets his new, roughly-half-his-age boss.

Carter’s initial days in charge are rough — he makes the astoundingly common mistake of making up for his inexperience with an off-putting level of know-it-all-ness. But Carter is shaken and scared, too, as he tells a cute girl in an elevator, so he keeps Dan around to be his “awesome wingman.” The surprise is that the cute girl to whom Carter revealed his inner self-doubts is Alex.

Naturally, Carter and Alex find themselves attracted to each other and end up dating. Equally naturally, Dan is less than pleased to find this out. Meanwhile, modern corporate ownership proves increasingly difficult for Dan’s old company mentality but not exactly the new frontier of infinite possibility that Carter believed it was either.

Proving that, no matter what you do or who you are, your job will always find a way of screwing you in the end.

In Good Company is about maturity and how the possession of same will allow you to limit the extent to which your job will screw you. Sure, demotion at age 52 is not Dan’s best moment but he’s working, as he reminds himself, for his family. For daughters he loves and a wife he clearly adores. And if they are his bosses, a mere change in titles is hardly a reason for great existential angst. Heartburn, yes. But not the sort of desperate aimlessness experienced by Carter. Because, while Carter spends most of the movie basking in the warm glow of corporate love, it is — as even he knows — an ultimately temporary and untrustworthy thing. The same Teddy K-worshipping lackey who helps Carter with his career rise has absolutely no interest or compassion for Carter as a person. When Carter’s wife walks out on him after less than a year of marriage, The Company shrugs but it’s Dan who reluctantly but humanely brings Carter home for dinner with his family. And it’s Alex, who isn’t impressed by Carter’s rather shallow achievements, who takes an interest in the stunned boy who is trying to fake it as a man.

Now, sure, parts of this fable of how to live a good life amidst bad corporations seem fairy tale-ish in the extreme. (The last 20 minutes are uplifting but not particularly believable.) And Dan is, at times, a little too good to be real. But scenes of the arbitrary cruelness of the corporate culture are wonderfully, recognizably funny.

In Good Company is sort of a romantic comedy for those hurt once too often by their jobs. And, as with any tale of love realized, it gently promises that imperfect happiness is always possible for the goodhearted. 

- Amy Diaz

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