Screenwriter-director Paul Weitz's follow-up to About a Boy retains much of that Nick Hornby adaptation's easy charm. Weitz's original script suggests that he'll be just fine, left to his own devices: In Good Company has a pleasant whiff of Capra about it, with its accessible story, good humor, and insinuating themes.
Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, a 50-year-old magazine executive demoted when Globecom Interational becomes his new "parent" company. favor of an up-and-comer half his age (Topher Grace). While weathering a divorce, Grace's boyish Carter invites himself to a Foreman family dinner; soon, he's secretly dating Foreman's daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson). The deep bench includes David Paymer (terrific as a schlumpy co-worker with a stiletto wit), Philip Baker Hall as a potential big client, Clark Gregg as a Globecom toady, Marg Helgenberger as Dan's wife, and a veteran actor in a surprise cameo as clueless Globecom CEO Teddy K.
The title's a pun, of course, since the film is about office life as well as the people with whom the characters choose to spend time. The romantic comedy plot is fairly standard stuff, but never less than sweet and amusing; the business scenes—likewise never pat or overplayed—deal cleverly with the encroachment of corporate mindset on American business. Using a company basketball league as a counterpoint, Weitz criticizes the abandonment of teamwork for the bottom line.
Business buzzspeak serves both ironically to mirror the film's implicit values--"Synergy" was the film's original title--and to mock the glass Towers of Babel (Grace tirelessly peddles "factoids" as a marketing tool). The absurd arbitrariness of power ranking plays out in the constant displacement from offices and whole floors, followed by poker-faced re-placements.
Weitz also effectively works the father-son vibe between the understandably grumpy Dan and the chipper, Starbucks-fueled Carter; both Quaid and Grace are at the top of their respective games. Grace's Carter, described by one character as "prematurely old," has plenty to learn, and he knows it. "I'm totally scraed shitless," he confesses to Alex in their elevator meeting. "I have no idea what I'm doing. Don't tell anybody, okay?" Grace's funky rhythms and gawky charm fit Carter to a T.
Dan has forgotten more, it seems, than Carter will ever know, but faces big adjustments in both of his worlds. Quaid makes Dan's career death wish funny and credible; he's frustrated, but he knows where to draw the line in the workplace and, in the long run, at home. Dan's advice to is practical and straightforward (on marriage: "You just pick the right one to be in the foxhole with. And then when you're out of the foxhole, you keep your dick in your pants"), but his actions speak even louder. Weitz frames Dan and Carter as two sides of the same coin: editor Myron I. Kerstein's skillful montages (accompanied by Stephen Trask's unobstrusive score and well placed pop from the likes of David Byrne and Peter Gabriel) visually link the two men.
Weitz's outlook is hopeful without giving the audience everything it may want for the characters (making it more mature than cinematic cousins like Jerry Maguire). More importantly, In Good Company is the right movie at the right time: a guiltlessly funny oasis in the film-comedy desert.