Although he got rich and famous as one half of the brotherly duo that created the American Pie series, Paul Weitz has apparently decided it's time to grow up. He proved it quite handily in 2002 when he (and his brother Chris) directed About a Boy. That adaptation of Nick Hornby's popular novel proved that the Weitz boys had more going for them than an endless supply of wiener jokes.
Nowadays, Chris has gone on to write, direct (and subsequently drop out of) an epic adaptation of Philip Pullman's controversial fantasy series His Dark Materials. Paul, meanwhile, has gone solo, writing and directing his own humble comedy/drama, In Good Company.
The film stars Dennis Quaid as Dan Foreman, a middle-aged executive, the head of advertising sales at a well-established sports magazine. One fine corporate day, the magazine gets bought out by a reckless billionaire who wants to transform the publication into a heartless moneymaking machine. The new CEO sends in a hotshot young kid named Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) to replace Dan and shake things up. Suddenly, our humdrum hero is demoted and stuck working for a wet-eared kid half his age. To add insult to injury, Carter soon meets Dan's college-age daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) and falls madly in love. Normally, this would be a pretty standard setup for a wacky comedy about middle-aged angst. Fortunately, our writer/director has got a lot more in mind.
“Surprising” is the best word to describe In Good Company. It's surprisingly well made, surprisingly well acted, surprisingly enjoyable. Though the story is more or less predictable, the script spends a lot of time formulating subtle character moments that form the core of this film.
Carter, for example, isn't exactly the hotshot young exec he appears to be. He really is just a kid who's now in over his head. His growing fear and feelings of inadequacy are kept simmering under the surface. Grace (who poked fun at this film in his Ocean's Twelve cameo when he mentioned “just phoning in that movie with Dennis Quaid”) is really stretching his wings beyond “That '70s Show.” He projects a great mix of enthusiasm and insecurity here. (He also gets to make out with Scarlett Johansson and be married to Selma Blair, so he's not exactly getting hazard pay for this role.) It would have been easy to make Carter a simple corporate villain, but Weitz is aiming for something more.
Quaid does a good job embracing his age with this role. He's been in enough action hero roles lately (Flight of the Phoenix, The Day After Tomorrow, The Alamo, yawn), and seeing him as a sad-sack salesman is somehow refreshing. The character of Dan could also have fallen into cliché, making him an angry, tantrum-throwing guy who seeks revenge on his underage replacement. (Imagine the horrors if Tim Allen had been cast in this role.) Dan, instead, is a man who really loves his job, even under the worst of circumstances. He doesn't hate Carter (not too much, anyway), and eventually takes the kid under his wing.
Johansson has less to do as Quaid's daughter and Grace's love interest. I wish this intriguing actress would choose more challenging roles, but she fits in fine here. Her role is also rendered more interesting by the fact that Alex and Carter conduct a clandestine relationship. It would have been easy comedy for the two of them to make out in front of daddy, adding to his angst. But, again, the filmmaker is aiming for something more subtle.
In Good Company isn't a terribly exciting movie. The comedy is all kept fairly low key. The script doesn't end up any place you didn't expect it to. Still, it's a very likable film, similar in tone and maturity to Weitz's previous outing, About a Boy. If you're sick of this season's splashy overkill (Phantom of the Opera) and kiddy pandering (Fat Albert), this clever, timely and quite funny film may be just the holiday entertainment alternative you so desperately need.
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