In Good Company (2004)
Corporations in America are growing ever stronger, and, conversely, the individuals who make up the workforce of the corporations are losing their identities and growing weaker. In Good Company, a film that I was expecting to be lighter and more of a romantic comedy, takes a look inside a company that is not unlike many of the corporations that many of us work for, where the bottom line is more important than the livelihood of the employees.
Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, a 51-year-old head of advertising at a company called Sports America, which publishes a very popular magazine that in an alternate universe we might assume is illustrated. Dan has a great relationship with his employees, mainly because he never makes them feel threatened, and prefers to treat them as equals. However, when a global corporation called WorldCom takes over Sports America, a young hotshot named Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) is brought in to take over Dan's job. Dan's wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) helpfully observes that Carter looks to be about half Dan's age, and she's about right.
Carter's been assigned the task of increasing ad sales for the magazine. Dan is pretty sure that that is impossible, since sales have been steady for a long time, but Carter's got a buzz word, passed down from the top: synergy. His strategy is to intermingle with WorldCom's other subsidiaries and cross-promote. When this strategy isn't working, and costs need to be cut, heads start rolling, and Dan fears for his job. Meanwhile, Carter has met Dan's daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson), a student at NYU. What they have in common is a struggle to have an identity. Carter's a successful businessman and Alex is a successful tennis player, but neither seems to have much passion for their gifts. Carter, as Dan's boss, of course cannot allow Dan to know about his relationship with Alex, but we all know that secrets like that never get kept for very long.
Like I said before, this wasn't exactly the film I was expecting, and it was a little surprising to me, in both good and bad ways. The good was that it was more intelligent in showing corporate politics at work than most films are able to achieve. There is nothing contrived about the way the company works: people really do get fired when there is a lot of money on the line, and a larger corporation doesn't even know its employees, let alone care much about what happens to them after they're not making money for the company anymore.
However, In Good Company lacks the cynical bite necessary to really tear apart big business. This is a comedy, but there are only a handful of truly funny moments; there are a lot that will cause the audience to smirk, but guffaws are few and far between. The performances are generally good, with Dennis Quaid doing stellar work as always, and Topher Grace is surprisingly effective in a semi-dramatic role. The only disappointment is Scarlett Johansson, who isn't given much to work with, and doesn't do anything great with the material. This isn't a bad little film, but it's not much more than occasional entertainment, and that's unforunate, because it really had potential.
May 17, 2005