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In Good Company
Director: Peter Weitz
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson
he best thing about In Good Company is David Byrne. That’s not to say the movie hasn’t got an interesting story or likable actors, a capable director or an engaging screenplay. Those are all well and fine. But gosh, even though Byrne himself is not actually in the film, it’s the former front man for the Talking Heads who succeeds in really setting the tone from the very first sequence. That’s because it is his song “Glass, Concrete, & Stone” (from his 2004 album Grown Backwards) laid over the opening credits that really gets this thing going—it's all marimba, cello, and funky percussion that build deliberately in pacing, volume, and complexity. There’s a peppy forward motion, yearning, and enthusiasm there too in vocals that seem curbed by experience and some old sadness. Ultimately, this is a song—and we hope also, a movie—about being here and wanting to be there.
"Before you, I had the hots for Bill Murray. Oh, come on, don't look so shocked..."
Of course, what follows Byrne’s song is a movie, not the rest of an album. Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is a fiftyish ad-exec. He is hard working and a good man. And he believes in his work and the product he sells. But the beautiful suburban home and family that he’s built for himself is threatened when his company is bought. Dan is demoted and given a new boss who is charged with raising profits and slashing waste. That new boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who has plenty of charm but a dearth of actual experience, is, of course, half of Dan’s age: for your flow chart this generational gap would be labeled “Source of Conflict #1.” To be sure, not unlike Dan, Carter is hard working and a good man.
Anyway, Dan’s feeling out of place, old and poor. Enter Dan’s college-age daughter, the beautiful Alex (Scarlett Johansson), who, after transferring to the much pricier NYU, meets Carter by happenchance in the city, and is smitten. They jump into bed, thus creating “Source of Conflict #2.” It must be said, though: Alex is hard working and a good daughter. So there you have it, Conflict #1 multiplied by Conflict #2 yields drama and lots of it.
"It's all right, it happens to a lot of men..."
This is a good story, no doubt about it, lots of intersecting paths, traveled by earnest people trying to come to terms with their own ambitions. Young people wishing they were older; old people pretending they are younger. Parents and children, husbands and wives, bosses and employees: these are all tricky relationships that, when taken seriously, as they are here for the most part, can cover precious human territory. But somehow the timing is off and the punch line, that visceral emotional payoff, hits the mark only in starts and stops. I think I know why: although the whole contraption is well wrought and intriguing, there’s nothing sudden, sharp or unexpected about it. Ultimately, In Good Company does not surprise as often as it could—and that’s what’s most disappointing of all.
What is more, although our three main characters remain in clearly delineated and constant conflict with each other for much of the film, we can neither share nor feel any of that angst. Surreally, they are to remain in our eyes as entirely nice folks. The movie has a trio of protagonists and zero antagonists. Maybe that was necessary in order for matters to resolve themselves in the end as they do; maybe that was the focus-grouped conclusion that producers decided they needed for a mid-January hit. But either way, there’s little darkness here, no malevolent forces, and no responsibility. The film makers may very well have explored an alternative title, When Things Happen to Good People.
That oddness is also In Good Company’s most endearing trait. In Quaid, Grace, and Johansson, director Paul Weitz has brought together three of today’s most genuine-seeming actors. They interact brilliantly and they play their roles amiably. Watching them bounce off each other in this movie feels a little bit like getting together with some old buddies for a beer. It’s comfortable, not too taxing, and fun for a few laughs. So then, maybe the filmmakers ought to have considered a different song to set the tone in the opening minutes... say, Chuck Mangione’s merry jazz pop hit “Feels So Good.”
By: Rob Lott
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