Today, when we can't truly decide -- nor stop talking about -- whether work or personal relationships are more important, it is fitting that we are offered a movie like In Good Company. It too is eager to tackle both issues, to entwine them in ways that we acknowledge may be inseparable. But like all our half-baked ideas about successfully co-managing life and work, the film stumbles, failing to bring any sharpness to its depiction of the workplace, because it also has to rush home to deal with a family.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz (who collaborates here with his brother Chris, as he did in About a Boy), this comedy-drama tracks the gentle havoc wreaked when a corporate takeover disrupts a venerable sports magazine. With little preamble, 51-year-old head of sales Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) finds himself demoted beneath a newcomer, the 26-year-old corporate hotshot Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). There's plenty of material to be mined here in the reality of a "benign" takeover and the inversion of traditional business mores (longevity and the wisdom of age are no longer rewarded). Sadly, Weitz doesn't scrape much deeper than the sit-com level -- and I don't mean the BBC's brilliant and painful The Office.
The office politics give way to two additional domestic narratives. The downsized Foreman has two children, and an unexpected baby on the way. So now it's light family melodrama. Meanwhile, the recently divorced Duryea pines for companionship. In a convenient twist, he hooks up with Foreman's college-age daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson). Keeping this relationship secret now shifts the film into screwball romantic comedy territory.
Throughout, Weitz indulges in parallel presentations. Both men are introduced during their respective sales pitches. Each injures his arm in a manly sort of way. Foreman wishes he had a son; Duryea wishes he had a dad. And -- this part's a little creepy -- each fights for Alex's love. It's to the actors' credit that both men are likable; it goes a long way toward smoothing over the film's genre-hopping. Grace displays a caffeine-fueled puppyishness that is slightly obnoxious, but charming nonetheless. Quaid's character is bland by Hollywood standards, but such less-showy roles are harder to pull off.
A Capra-esque film like this is a tough sell in today's Hollywood, and despite a few winsome moments, In Good Company bears the stamp of adjustment for the marketplace. There's the too-pat, unlikely conclusion, and Foreman's dead-air speech in defense of good old-fashioned business practices. (Funny how nobody notices how that equals a boozy male fraternity.) Ultimately, the film really rallies to preserve an idealized version of man-at-work with wife-and-two-kids-in-the-suburbs. That's still Hollywood fantasy, not reality.