Dan Foreman is knee deep in a mid-life crisis. At age 51, he has no time to buy a Harley Davidson, take flying lessons, or battle the rapids on a white-water death wish as some men do. His wife is having a baby (a surprise), his daughter is headed off to college, and his company has been bought by a huge multinational corporation. Along the way, Dan has to take out a second mortgage and discovers that he has been demoted and must now work for Carter Duryea, a 26-year-old. Oh yeah, by the way, his brand-new superior–someone half his age–is involved in a clumsy and covert romantic relationship with Dan’s 19-year daughter.
That is the quirky dilemma of In Good Company staring Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow), Topher Grace (That ’70s Show), Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), and directed by Paul Weitz (About A Boy).
Weitz intended for the film to be a dramatic and humorous commentary on our ever-shifting economic environment. “People related stories to me about relatives and friends in mid-life, being fired or falling victim to corporate downsizing,” said Weitz. “And now these 50-somethings were looking for a job at a time when they had hoped to be hitting their stride, with plenty of work years left, or re-training to try to enter the workforce in a different line of work.”
Anyone who has been on the departing end of a corporate downsizing will recognize the anxiety of the experience. The script generously provides for plenty of evil corporate bozos that you eagerly pray receive their comeuppance. In Good Company also takes special joy in ridiculing celebrity business magnates who foster a cult-of-personality and speak in flowery pabulum that is mistaken for profundity–the kind of thing one occasionally finds in the pages of Fast Company. Nevertheless, the film lacks the kind of snarky corporate bashing that one would expect from filmmakers such as Oliver Stone or Michael Moore.
Ultimately, however, In Good Company is about an unconventional father-son relationship. The 26-year old corporate poster boy Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) made his name by marketing cell phones to five-year-olds. He has every success in life–except happiness. He crashes his brand new Porsche 911 Carrera while pulling out of the dealership and his gorgeous, high-maintenance, and neglected wife (Selma Blair) of seven months is calling it quits. “But I don’t want to have kids with you,” she indignantly tells Carter. “I don’t want to have kids. I told you that on our second date.”
Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), on the other hand, represents an old-school approach to business–namely, mutually beneficial deals formed through face-to-face relationships, as opposed to mere acquisitions. (After working out a deal with a client, Dan tells Carter, “It was the right thing to do–to improve his business.”) While Dan has been demoted from being the “boss man” to the “wing man” in order to keep his job, he has the kind of stable home life that can anchor him in the midst of uncertainty and Carter cannot help but notice. In one scene, Carter asks Dan about the secret to his marriage. “Pick the right one to be in the foxhole with,” he replies.
We learn that Carter’s father left when he was just a young boy, leaving him to be raised by his hippy mom. Although he is supposed to fire Dan in order to cut expenses at the company, Carter sees in him the kind of character, integrity, and loyalty to colleagues that he himself lacks. Carter has clamored up the corporate ladder with such lightening speed that he has no idea he is lonely and lost until he sees Dan’s family.
As to be expected, things become even more complicated when Dan’s daughter (Scarlett Johansson) exercises her newfound independence by taking a romantic interest in her father’s new boss (“I have been cursed with a functional family,” she half-jokingly states). Needless to say, Dan is none to happy about the cavorting couple when he discovers their secret romance, and someone walks away with a black eye.
As ludicrous as the premise of the film may seem at times (although one knows that this type of thing does indeed go on in corporate America), Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid have enough dynamic and entertaining counterbalances to keep it interesting. Quaid remains one of the most trustworthy “everyman” actors in Hollywood and Grace is a definitely the one to watch for in the future (think young Tom Hanks).
In Good Company is a sharply written and witty film about the eccentric nature of corporate culture, the mysterious bonds of family, and the whiplash of an unexpected midlife crisis–reminding us that when life gets bumpy, it really does matter who’s in the foxhole with you.
–Steve Beard is the creator of www.Thunderstruck.org–a website devoted to faith and pop culture.