The conventionally coasting comedy of In Good Company would slightly disappoint even if director Paul Weitz had nothing to do with About a Boy.
That movie, co-directed with brother Chris, had comic edges sharp enough to draw blood. In its overarching aim to please, Company wants to cover the boo-boo with a Band Aid and kiss it, too. (At least it has as good a soundtrack.) How else to explain awkward comic nudity and the phoned-in feel-good plot of a newborn baby, not to mention the standard-issue romance?
If plot were a car, this would be one of the most oversized SUVs in the multiplex. But Weitz parks it carefully into a cozy spot. By film’s end, Company has drawn its truest fun and feeling from a fresh subject spun together with an intelligently handled father-son dynamic.
Corporate America has that shifty ability to be regimental one day and restructured the next. Within this world, Weitz finds two compelling stories of men aging in the workplace.
At 51, Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is decidedly too old and obligated to be tossed out from his job as an ad executive for a New York sports magazine. He’s already got two children with wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger), and college-aged Alex (Scarlett Johansson) is begging to help pay for the more expensive NYU. And the newborn baby happens to be his.
Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) wears a man’s suit, but its itch factor extends into the fabric of his life. He’s still a boy in experience, which he learns as his marriage and his new-bought sports car crumple. Still, he’s perceived as a go-getter for Globecom Corporation, which buys out Dan’s magazine.
Much to Dan’s chagrin, the half-his-age Carter becomes his boss — albeit one so unassuming, it seems unlikely he’d pull rank on anyone unless pushed. Even more to his chagrin, Carter begins rebound-dating Alex. But the appeal of Dan’s lifestyle to Carter extends beyond his daughter. After initial sparring, the two come to a synergy outside the boardroom that comes into play later on.
Grace and Johansson spark palpable chemistry. And, in fairness to Weitz, their relationship is resolved with less Hollywood hokum than expected. But the real charge of In Good Company comes with how authentically it captures on-the-job concerns.
It’s stuff of real concern to real people — inspiring co-workers, interoffice antagonism, corporate product inbreeding and firing employees, the last of which is handled with uncanny weight. This commentary on the sometimes-dizzying absurdity of corporate work culminates in a terrifically rational speech from Quaid to Globecom’s chairman, Teddy K. (Malcolm McDowell, in a cameo).
Continuing the rocketing rebirth of his career, Quaid goes from wild man to everyman and flexes rarely seen comedic muscles in doing so. Dan’s anxieties mount in mostly believable ways, and Quaid’s reactions to them ring true with realism.
Grace’s performance is easily likable, but this is essentially Eric from That ’70s Show in fashionable clothes. The nastiness he showed in Traffic suggests versatility beyond the stumbling sweetheart roles.
Company’s sudden ending is a good one. There is no silly fairytale coda to leave no character outside of the perfect place. Instead, they’re all in the right place, as is this comedy that draws honest laughs from borderline TV premises.