My dad used to get a chuckle out of Dilbert, a popular cartoon strip revolving around corporate absurdity. (A recent installment featured Dilbert learning about his company's eminent layoffs and restructuring from an outside vendor.) But after a few years of working for his current employer, a company that will remain nameless, Dad announced that he couldn't laugh at Dilbert anymore. It hits way too close to home these days.

Dennis Quaid is the 50-something guy who's got it all together at the office

Dennis Quaid is the 50-something guy who's got it all together at the office

Dad's announcement came to mind ten minutes into In Good Company, when Dan Forman, a 51-year-old ad executive for a leading sports magazine, is bumped out of his job because a huge corporation, Globecom, has bought out his magazine and installed 26-year-old Carter Dureya in his position. Dan (Dennis Quaid) is on top of his game, leading a crack team of salespeople, developing strong relationships with clients, and bringing in big revenue for the magazine. Carter (Topher Grace), on the other hand, has no experience in the field and has no idea what he's doing. I suspect any affinity Dan might have had for Dilbert's brand of comedy was lost in that transition.

But it's this transition that sets the narrative ball rolling as Dan's lovely life collides with the three-piece-suit of a disaster that is Carter's world. Dan is relegated to the role of Carter's right-hand-man and it isn't long before we see that, just as with their resumes, their personal lives are a study in contrasts. Dan has a cozy home and strong, loving relationships with the members of his family, which include wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger), 18-year-old daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson), younger teenage daughter Jana, and, as he soon finds out, a third (and unexpected) child on the way. Carter has a stark, modern abode and an odd wife (Selma Blair) of seven months. A few minutes later the wife is an ex and Carter is sleeping on the couch at the office and working on Sundays.

Topher Grace is the 20-something hotshot who doesn't know jack about business

Topher Grace is the 20-something hotshot who doesn't know jack about business

Fueled by a $30-a-day Starbucks habit, Carter is a caffeinated corporate poster boy. He's "psyched," everything is "awesome," and the key to success is "synergy." Successful is, of course, what Carter wants to be, and he's driven to impress his corporate masters. But his aspiration seem almost silly in the shadow his self-assured, forthright wingman Dan.

Carter quickly realizes that Dan has everything he doesn't—a balanced, meaningful life. And so he wisely—though it's hard to call Carter wise—starts paying attention to how Dan operates. He invites himself over to dinner, protects Dan's job from elimination, and—without Dan's knowledge—starts dating Alex, a move that's much to Dan's chagrin when he finds out.

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I was really looking forward to In Good Company. First of all, I'm a sucker for any movie that has Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" in the trailer. But in addition to that, I really liked the idea of a movie exploring the vulnerabilities of older employees and their families in this age of corporate downsizing, restructuring, and outsourcing. Add some laughs, a little romance, and a great cast in Quaid, Grace, and Johansson, and I'm there. Unfortunately, I like the idea of In Good Company better than the movie itself.

Dan and his daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) are part of a very tight family

Dan and his daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) are part of a very tight family

There are notes that this movie hits perfectly—the sacrificial love Dan quietly exudes as he gets up early and heads to work; his frustration with corporate-speak; his feeling trapped by age and experience; the panic when he is demoted and then comes home to find out his wife is pregnant and his oldest daughter wants to transfer to expensive NYU; the resignation tinged with hope when he and Ann take out a second mortgage.

But these moments are woven together with odd camera angles, uneven pacing, and puzzling characters. I thought Carter's wife was a strange addition to the mix. You can tell from the few minutes she is on the screen that she is a fully fleshed out character. That's not usually a bad thing. But here her role is so insignificant—a foil to demonstrate how messed-up Carter's life is—I felt unsatisfied. Later in the movie I still found myself wondering about her . . . had she left him before in their short-lived marriage? Were her parents somehow to blame for her lack of commitment? Did this couple ever have a chance of making it? She ended up distracting me away from the story the director was trying to tell.

Carter and Alex start dating, but her dad doesn't know about it

Carter and Alex start dating, but her dad doesn't know about it

Scarlett Johansson does a great job of giving Alex likeable poise with just a tinge of naiveté, but there's no way this character is 18. She's too sophisticated to pass for it. Even though the scene plays very naturally, I still thought it was a bit icky when she put the moves on her dad's 26-year-old, freshly divorced boss. Make her a 22-year-old college senior and I'll buy it. And, besides, there's no way an 18-year-old college freshman from a middle class family has the kind of clothes necessary to date a guy who drives a Porsche.

There's much to applaud in this movie. It's got a "Father Knows Best" sensibility about it that exalts character over profit margins. Dan is an honorable man and Carter, eventually, decides he wants to figure out how to be one too. But in my opinion, the story's execution falls short of its potential.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What ambitions and hopes motivate Dan? What ambitions and hopes motivate Carter? How did those things evolve for Carter throughout the story?

  2. Was there anything of value to be found in Globecom's corporate philosophy of synergy?

  3. What do you think attracted Carter to Alex and vice versa?

  4. Where to you think Carter will be ten years after this movie ends? Or Dan?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Language is the main reason for a PG-13 rating here. A sexual relationship between an unmarried couple is implied, but nothing more than kissing is shown on screen.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 01/06/05

In Good Company—the new comedy from Paul Weitz, director of About a Boy—is a film that examines the current climate of dehumanizing business practice, challenging us to revise the way in which we set and pursue our goals and dreams. The film, currently playing only in New York and L.A., opens in wide release on January 14, when Christianity Today Movies will post a full review. Film Forum will include a roundup of other critics' observations the following week.

Weitz's movie is the latest in a series of recent features that pose questions about the difference between animal behavior and "higher" behavior, the call of conscience. Kinsey, Collateral, Closer, We Don't Live Here Anymore, and other recent releases portray people behaving selfishly and recklessly in the arenas of sex, business, and relationships. Some of them suggest that the "freedom" of amorality is fulfilling rather than damaging. Not this film.

(NOTE: The following involves plot points from the film that could be considered mild spoilers.)

In Good Company features Carter Duryea, a young and ambitious business mogul played by Topher Grace (That 70s Show). In one scene, he's staring at a goldfish swimming in circles in a bowl, and his mournful gaze shows that he can relate—he's also trapped in a glass world of demoralizing business practices in an effort to be successful. He realizes that, while he's gaining responsibility and status, he's stuck in a circuit that will lead him nowhere. The film follows Carter's journey of coming to understand what he lacks and what he needs.

When Carter takes a new position as the head of marketing for a sports magazine, he displaces Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a 50-something professional with experience and a sterling reputation. But as Dan begrudgingly consents to work for Carter, the young hotshot sees an alternative way of living and working, a fulfilling lifestyle that represents everything that is missing in his own life. Dan built business relationships with handshakes and sincere conversation rather than high pressure sales tactics. His values—trust, relationship, respect, and dignity—don't show up on Carter's radar.

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The two men clearly need each other, the way sons and fathers need each other. Carter's swimming with sharks when what he needs is to be surrounded by a loving family … like Dan's. Soon, he begins secretly dating (and, unfortunately, sleeping with) Dan's daughter, hoping to absorb some of that family love. When Dan takes a "fatherly" tone with his new boss, Carter responds, "Nobody has ever taken the time to give me a hard time before!"

When the filmmakers and actors met with the press in L.A. recently, I asked Weitz to comment on Carter's "animal behavior" and the higher, more human quality of the life that appeals to him. He responded, "Carter is into the surface aspect of things because that is all that he can see. He didn't grow up in a happy family situation."

I asked Topher Grace for his perspective on Carter's attraction to Dan's family. He replied, "Carter's got everything on paper. His parents were both absent. But he's got the job, and the right car, and the right wife, and the right house. Once he goes to [Dan's] house, he starts to see something that he really wants but doesn't know how to get. I think he's dating Dan's daughter as a consolation prize to being in the family. But he would trade it all in just to be the fifth member of the family." Describing Carter's unhealthy business tactics, he echoes a lesson he learned from his own dad: "Having more energy doesn't mean you're smarter."

Meanwhile, Dan is clinging to "the old fashioned way" and doesn't yet see the rewards that can come from weathering change and being open to new relationships. He needs to know that just because he's older doesn't mean he's washed up. "What happens in the relationship between [Dan and Carter] … I think it's by design," Quaid told me. "[Dan's] a guy with two daughters, and you're rooting for him to have a son. And … he's gained a son in his relationship with Topher's character."

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Crosswalk's Annabelle Robertson was also at the press junket in L.A. In her feature article about the film, which includes excerpts from that event, Robertson says, "In Good Company has a strong message about fathers and mentors, and focuses on what it means to be a dad under challenging circumstances."

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) saw the film in New York, calling it "a mostly sharp and perceptive take on the heartlessness of today's corporate world." He calls an episode that involves premarital sex "a brief misstep in an otherwise solid screenplay," and concludes, "There are a couple of twists by the film's ending, which is more bittersweet than the conventional wrap-up you'd expect. This is an intelligent, above-average comedy-drama worth seeing."

from Film Forum, 01/20/05

Two weeks ago, Film Forum featured an early look at In Good Company, along with some comments from cast members. This week, there are reviews available at most Christian film review sites.

Lisa Ann Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) says, "There's much to applaud in this movie. It's got a 'Father Knows Best' sensibility about it that exalts character over profit margins. Dan is an honorable man and Carter, eventually, decides he wants to figure out how to be one too. But in my opinion, the story's execution falls short of its potential."

Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) asks, "How often does Hollywood take notice of a hero who values, say, building loyalty with customers and coworkers, or who actually has it together at home with a committed marriage and a happy family, as opposed to merely undergoing a clichéd third-act revelation that family is what really matters and that he's been wasting his life? In Good Company does this and more. It's not just about personal success versus professional success, it's appropriately interested in both. What's more, it's also interested in personal and professional ethics, personal and professional integrity. Imagine that."

Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) says, "It contains some terrific performances [and it] has its heart in the right place with solid statements about fidelity, preborn life, family ties and a man's need to keep his career in perspective. But in the final analysis, while I respect the film's message and its assemblage of onscreen talent, it doesn't supply enough fun or riveting drama to call it great entertainment."

Andrew Coffin (World) says this film "has more in common with About a Boy than [Weitz's] earlier projects. In Good Company has similar aspirations—getting at what's 'really important' about life. Regrettably, without much profound to say, the film doesn't register thematically."

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Chris Utley (Hollywood Jesus) raves that it's "an excellent and enjoyable film. Weitz … continues his exploration into the deeper places of the masculine heart and mind through this film. Complex, funny, and real, it's a film about finding our way and it's a tribute to those who have helped us to find it. It's not a bad way to start the new year!"

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "Weitz demonstrated a fine sensibility with About a Boy, and he does it again with In Good Company. It's not the plot that makes Company so much fun; it's the working out of the relationships that are both painfully and hilariously real."

Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight) says the film "leaves us feeling good, and refreshed for having seen it. Weitz has given us something real: the humor is real, the characters are real, and the situations are real. If you are expecting something by the book and sub par, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised."

My full review of In Good Company is at Looking Closer.

In Good Company
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for some sexual content and drug references)
Directed By
Paul Weitz
Run Time
1 hour 49 minutes
Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson
Theatre Release
January 14, 2005 by Universal Pictures
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