Like a 21st-century Death of a Salesman but with more laughs, In Good Company has its finger on the pulse of how American business is changing. It has the makings of a cult film, like Office Space; but since they bothered to change the name from the more apt Synergy– focus groups prefer generic titles– Universal must be hoping for a jumbo cult. In Good Company deserves it.
This is the first solo flight for writer-director Paul Weitz, who co-wrote and co-directed About a Boy with his brother Chris after they initiated the American Pie series. Either Paul is the talented one or we can look forward to doubling our pleasure when both siblings start cranking out movies on a regular basis. The Weitz Brothers will be more assured of steady employment than the rest of us.
That brings us back to In Good Company, in which Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a sales manager who's been with Sports America magazine for over 20 years, is demoted when a conglomerate swallows up his employer. Taking his title and corner office is 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who knows nothing about magazines but a lot about synergy– setting up cross-promotions between various divisions of the parent corporation.
Each man has problems outside of work. Dan, 51, has two teenage daughters and has just learned his wife (Marg Helgenberger) is pregnant again. Older daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) wants to transfer to NYU and move into the city, which will require a second mortgage on their suburban home. Carter is left by Kim (Selma Blair), his wife of seven months, and wrecks his new Porsche driving it off the lot.
The inevitable layoffs start almost immediately, with Dan upset to see the team he's assembled broken up. There's probably nothing that could make matters worse except for Carter to start dating Alex, so of course that's what happens. She makes him "blatantly honest" when he's normally seen as "an emotionally guarded, anal retentive asshole."
In Good Company is about the tragedies that hit hundreds daily in a world where the bottom line is more important than anything else. With an eye for little ironies like the reverse synergy that costs the magazine an account because of an unrelated feud on the corporate level, Weitz finds enough comedy in the situations to keep you laughing even as you recognize things that have happened to you– or could happen tomorrow.
The actors are perfection. You have to wonder how Grace can return to That '70s Show after a project like this, but you also have to admire his loyalty, something this movie shows is in short supply.
It must have been difficult to get the ending past the focus groups, but Weitz' biggest mistake is in being too sympathetic toward Dan. What should have been a story of intergenerational cultural exchange is instead treated as a one-way street, with the younger man learning from the older one but not teaching him anything in return. In the real world, it works both ways.
This gaffe may cost In Good Company some younger viewers, but it's still a fine piece of entertainment for all generations, funny as hell yet suitable for inclusion in a time capsule to show what was going on in America in the mid-2000s.