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David Styburski
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DVD Review: In Good Company


Good managers confront a problem by looking at what they themselves can do better as opposed to automatically placing blame on their subordinates. When they greet their employees with a “How ya doin’,” they actually listen to the responses. They treat each co-worker a little differently based on individual needs and psychological makeups, and even when employees of these managers recognize that they are being manipulated, they allow it, feeling special because they know that the manipulation was tailored specifically for them by their astute bosses. Good managers even allow themselves to seem human every once in a while.

Bad managers are always convinced that they are good managers and view company failures primarily as the result of someone not being committed to “the team.” They attempt to motivate everyone in their departments the same way, through ludicrous organizational goals that try to create a mirage of the company as a family, a relationship that employees are expected to believe as gospel but one that the company rarely reciprocates. When bad managers say “How ya doin,’” the answer is not important to them, and their faux inquiries into their employees’ problems never cease to sound like lip service. A bad manager seemingly lacks a personal life and becomes quickly disgusted when employees dare to give their time to their families on Sundays instead of sweating away at the office.

Carter, the 26-year old sales executive played by Topher Grace in “In Good Company,” is a bad manger. And when he takes over an ad department at a sports magazine, his business-seminar tricks fool everyone but Dan (Dennis Quaid), who has been a good manager for a long time but now finds himself demoted as a result of a corporate takeover and the new owners’ focus on nothing but the bottom line of profits. The two men’s opposite approaches to management are spelled out in a scene involving inevitable layoffs of hardworking veteran staff members with, in the company’s mind, overly respectable salaries.

“Why don’t you just say that they’re being fired instead of saying that they’re being let go?” Dan challenges Carter.

“Because it sounds better.”

“Not to the person being fired, it doesn’t.”

“In Good Company” has much to say about a modern business world filled with executives who deal with people for a living but don’t take the time to understand their coworkers or clients as human beings. They make money, yes, but they do it more through psychological trickery than through the maintenance of relationships with respect at their foundation. As the film progresses, Carter realizes that his shallow business practices have left him with a shallow personal life. One night, he meets Dan’s family and wants a life like his, especially one involving Dan’s college-student daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson). Meanwhile, Dan has to make a choice regarding how much of his old-school integrity he is willing to compromise in order to live in the age of corporate America.

The two male leads perform well in tricky roles. Quaid’s Dan would like to despise his naïve new boss, but even in his most stressed-out moments, Dan's decency is always visible. Grace, known mostly for his work on television’s “That ‘70s Show,” skillfully plays a blatant corporate a-hole while still seeming cute.

Writer-director Paul Weitz has done a fine job in the past of telling the story of a selfish, shallow man who softens courtesy of increased human interaction. His “About a Boy” was one of the best films of 2002. But Weitz makes the mistake here, I think, of overcomplicating the relationship between Carter and Dan with Carter’s secret affair with Alex. Carter changes his ways at work, of course, but the audience is allowed to wonder, if only for a second, if his conversion is meant to be true-hearted or a political move on his part to score points with the father of his new favorite girl.

I believe that Weitz tried to make a movie that would make an audience feel warm inside at its conclusion. And he nearly accomplishes that thanks to the likeability of Quaid, and,to a warped extent, Grace. Yet, in the case of Carter, Weitz has created a character who, despite becoming likable over the course of 104 minutes, requires a little more time than the film allows to convey smile-inducing degrees of warmth. “In Good Company” is an insightful office comedy that temporarily loses itself after taking a detour into the land of soap operas.


Posted: May 19, 2005 ,   Modified: May 19, 2005

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