Every year, movie studios release a handful of films in a limited number of theaters during the end of December. They are positioning these films for Academy Award consideration. During January and February, they increase the number of screens for these films, capitalizing on the press and publicity of all of the Academy Award nominations. This treatment is bestowed on such films as “Mystic River”, “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven”. It is almost never done with a comedy. The people who vote for these awards, unfortunately, do not consider comedies, worthy of Oscar’s attention. This long-winded explanation leads me to Universal Picture’s “In Good Company”, starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johnannson and Marg Helgenberger. Released on December 29, Universal would seem to be saying, “Look at this film. Academy Award potential here!” “Company” is certainly worthy of such consideration, but, more likely, it will become one of those films that everyone was ‘gonna see, but haven’t yet.’ Oh, if the film had been released in the fall. It might have been a huge hit.
Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) lives in suburbia with his wife, Anne (Marg Helgenberger) and two daughters, Alex (Scarlett Johansonn) and a younger daughter. Dan is the VP of AD Sales at a major ‘Sports Illustrated’-like magazine, one of the most successful magazines in the country. He is perfectly happy and loved by his family and long-term clients. Because the magazine is so successful, it attracts the eye of a media conglomerate run by the Rupert Murdoch-esque Teddy Kay (Malcolm McDowell). As soon as the purchase is complete, Teddy Kay installs his own management team and Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), 26, half of Dan’s age, is picked to replace Dan. Pressured to fire Dan, Carter realizes that he needs help and recognizes that Dan could provide the right balance to the team. He keeps Dan on as his ‘wing man’. His personal life a mess, Carter jumps at an off-hand invitation by Dan to join his family for Sunday dinner. At Dan’s house, Carter meets Alex.
“In Good Company”, Paul Weitz’s follow-up to “About A Boy” is a rare film in multiplexes today. A comedy that tells a story that could be real, in a way that makes us forget (at times) that we are watching a film. What? You’ll make more like this? Sign me up. Right here.
It is a glorious feeling to watch this (almost) perfect film. Quaid, always an underrated actor (he even made his character in the disastrous remake of “Flight of the Phoenix” seem intelligent) turns in a flawless performance. There just isn’t any other way to describe it. At every turn, when Dan is presented with another challenge, his reactions seem real and as though they are drawing from Quaid’s real-life experiences. He makes us believe that he is the living, breathing embodiment of Dan. He is shocked, overjoyed, secretly happy, dumbstruck and more with each new event, sometimes in the same minute of time. It is a performance that is real, and interesting, and believable.
A side note: as detailed as my synopsis is, it only scratched the surface of everything that happens in the film. Yet another reason the film should be celebrated.
How many times have we all gone to a romance, a comedy, or a drama and the story simply moves from point A to point B? Not very interesting or real is it? The characters in “Company” seem all the more watchable because they have complications in their lives. Some of these problems may seem extraneous, but they inform the characters and make them richer. Thankfully, one of the cliches they stay away from is that of the ‘dysfunctional’ family. The family members love and care for each other. Alex comments at one point “I’m a writer blessed with a functional family.”
Every part Quaid’s equal is Topher Grace. Grace, seen in such films as “Traffic”, “Win A Date With Tad Hamilton” and the T.V. show “That 70’s Show”, has an easy likable quality to him that promises he will become a major star. As Carter, Grace brings a manic, slightly unhappy, energetic quality to his character. Eager for the challenge, but shocked as well, Carter throws himself into his new job, at the expense of everything else. Recognizing that Dan has created a good life for himself, a life he would like to emulate, he keeps Dan on board. He wants to learn from Dan and this adds a unique slant to their relationship.
Scarlett Johansonn plays Alex, Dan’s oldest daughter. She is intelligent, athletic and has a good relationship with her parents. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect when she tells her dad that she was accepted to NYU as a transfer student. This only adds to Dan’s current problems. His daughter living alone in the big city? Tuition at NYU? Johansonn is a very good actress and she has already starred in a number of interesting films. This role would seem to be more of a supporting character, but she brings energy, interest and life to it.
It is also a pleasure to see a mature female character in a major film. Marg Helgenberger (T.V.’s “C.S.I.”), is Dan’s wife, Ann, and she seems a natural fit. In watching the film, you get a real sense that these two characters have a life together and have actually spent years in the trenches together.
“Company” is an almost perfect film. Director and writer Weitz tells the story at a leisurely pace, further enhancing the feeling that we are voyeurs. However, the film’s climax seems rushed.
The only reason I can think of for this is timing. The film runs just under two hours and I suspect the studio wanted him to maintain this timing. Because of the brevity of the final scenes, they seem unrealistic and detract from the rest of the film. The ‘big’ confrontation between Teddy K. and Dan is very quick and completely unbelievable. And the final ‘big’ sales pitch is just as quick, which makes it seem too easy.
These two points aside, “In Good Company” is one of the best comedies I have seen in a long time. Don’t miss it! Don’t become one of those people who are always telling me “gonna see it, but haven’t yet”. If you do become one of these people, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you don’t support the really good films, why should the studio make more like it?