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Director: Paul Weitz

Producers: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

Written by:Paul Weitz

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johannson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall, Selma Blair


In Good Company opens on a weekday morning at the obscene hour of 4:30 a.m., as a rumpled Dennis Quaid wakes and prepares for work to the strains of David Byrne’s “Grass, Concrete & Stone.” The song was last used for the closing credits of Stephen FrearsDirty Pretty Things, which was about decidedly less privileged illegal immigrants struggling for survival; it’s interesting to see director Paul Weitz snatch the song back into the realm of privilege which Byrne himself occupies these days. The song title is also Weitz’s visual strategy for entering the world of corporate high-rises: lots of reflective surfaces and clean lines, stripping everything down to its architectural essence.

In Good Company benefits from this high-gloss look—a sort of variation on Janusz Kaminski’s characteristically overlit collaborations with Steven Spielberg—even as it suffers from Weitz’s addiction to stunningly obvious dissolves in editing. At one point, Quaid discussing his potentially getting fired becomes raw meat being sliced. Dozens of these goofy juxtapositions and parallels are scattered throughout the film, but though they’re stupid they’re also oddly endearing as a sign of Weitz’s sincere personal involvement, Even at its most sentimental and pandering—and the last 20 minutes of the film plunge into a sense of pandering that the rest of the film near-miraculously avoids, contrary to the ordinary crowd-pleaser—Weitz always means it.

Quaid’s Dan Foreman is an advertising manager who, at age 51, discovers that he’s been demoted to working under the 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Grace). Despite being fast-tracked by his higher-ups, Grace is utterly clueless, coming as he does from selling cell-phones. He persuades Dan to mentor him, seeing as that’s pretty much the only way Dan can keep his job anyway, and Carter is in need of all the mentoring he can get. This does not, however, stop him from becoming strangely attracted to Dan’s college-freshman daughter, Alex (Johansson). Awkwardness ensues.

Dennis Quaid, perpetually cited by critics as an underrated actor, gets to show off his comic timing for the first time since, of all things, 1998’s Parent Trap remake. Grace, slowly making his way out of the “That ’70s Show” ghetto, gives another display of his impeccable timing. Together, the two alone would make the film worth watching (Johansson is only a period presence), but Weitz’s bumblingly endearing concerns get it further. With his muddled concerns—about globalization, about the brave new world of corporate warfare and takeovers, about the rising cost of college, etc.—Company will make a great time capsule. And even now it resembles a sort of less-talented, dumbed-down take on Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, which also trafficked—albeit with much greater sophistication—in concerns about the corporate environment, lots of glass walls, and the potential disintegration of the family unit. But Weitz doesn’t stop there. His scattershot approach leads him in the direction of a Taxi Driver homage one moment and an inexplicable spoof on 50 Cent the next.

What emerges, in short, is a lumberingly good-natured movie whose strong main plot (the personal lives of Topher’s lonely singlehood and Quaid’s strong family), plus an emphasis on glossy corporate visuals, lends surprising unity to a movie that sometimes seems to lash out at anything that moves. And, 20 years down the line, it’ll make even better, nostalgia-inducing viewing. Accusing a movie released by Universal of being hypocritical in its anti-corporate stance is missing the point. Weitz’s movie, for better and worse, appears to have had zero interference, regardless of what his studio’s aims are. Along with The Terminal and Spanglish, In Good Company is one of the most underrated pleasantries of 2004.

—Vadim Rizov

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