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‘In Good Company’

The latest movie from writer-director Paul Weitz is, to use a favorite adjective from the film itself, “awesome.” Weitz demonstrated a fine sensibility with “About a Boy,” and he does it again with “In Good Company,” which expands nationwide today.

“Company” stars Dennis Quaid as Dan Foreman, the 51-year-old head of ad sales for Sports America magazine. The genuine Dan leads a good life, complete with beautiful wife, Ann (Marg Helgenberger), and two lovely daughters.

 

Trouble sets in, however, when the magazine falls prey to a corporate takeover. Conglomerate Globecom acquires the weekly and makes 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) the new head of ad sales.

 

Dan finds himself reporting to this upstart, whose own short marriage is crumbling. It’s demeaning for Dan, but he can’t just abort the company. His wife is surprisingly pregnant, and his eldest daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), is about to start college at pricey NYU.

 

Dan’s relationship with Carter is further complicated by a romantic entanglement between Carter and Alex, which the two conspire to keep secret from Dan fearing he won’t be able to handle the news.

 

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.

 

Weitz lets the corporate times in which we live affect the age-old realities of family conflict. His self-professed interest in Billy Wilder comedy serves him—and audiences—well. What Weitz puts on screen is a delight.

 

Part of the delight comes from Weitz’s capacity for nimble characterizations. Dan is flesh; Carter is metal. Dan is enthusiastic; Carter is “psyched.” Dan’s house, like his face, has elegant nooks and crannies; Carter’s is sterile.

 

Yet, despite their differences, they have a connection, even if it’s one forged out of Globecom’s effort to turn the respected magazine into “a portal to a synergized world of cross-promotion.” Though Carter has become Dan’s boss, the young punk manages that tension with alternate bouts of hard-nosed business acumen and surprising empathy.

 

All this makes Carter ultimately likeable, which makes Dan’s thickening veneer of psychological instability that much funnier.

 

If there’s a disappointment to the film, it’s the motivation given to Alex, which must really be grasped for as opposed to felt. Her interest in and relationship with Carter seems much less narratively authentic than Dan’s relationship with him. But that is a slight criticism of an otherwise spectacular film.

 

“In Good Company” may eventually be remembered chiefly for Topher Grace. The star of TV’s “That ’70s Show” turns in a bravura performance as Carter Duryea. The subtleties in which he trades are priceless, and Hollywood needs to get him another good script fast.

 

The film has laugh-out-loud moments, which Weitz puts in the service of making the audience feel right along with Dan and Carter. Spend time with these characters, and you’ll be in good company.

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and drug references.

Director: Paul Weitz

Writer: Paul Weitz

Cast: Dan Foreman: Dennis Quaid; Carter Duryea: Topher Grace; Alex Foreman: Scarlett Johansson; Ann Foreman: Marg Helgenberger; Morty: David Paymer.

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.

 

Also read our interview with writer-director Paul Weitz.