In Good Company (2004)

Rated PG-13 . Our ratings: V-1 ; L-2 ; S/N-3

The righteous walk in integrity—
happy are the children who follow them!

The glory of youths is their strength,
but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.
Proverbs 20:7,29

In Good Company

Set in the world of corporate take-overs, Paul Weitz’s film (which he also wrote) will evoke laughter and maybe even produce a lump in the throat, though I wish it gave a more realistic look at corporate culture. Imagine how Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) must feel when international conglomerate Globe.com. takes over the magazine Sports America where he heads the advertising sales department, and they decide to bring in their own man Carter Duryea and move Dan to No. 2 (“wing man” he is called)—and his replacement is half his age! And then, to complicate matters further, the young guy falls in love with Dan’s college-age daughter.

Scarlett Johansson makes the most of her supporting role of daughter Alex (though not nearly as dramatic as her roles in Lost in Translation or The Girl With a Pearl Earring). A high school tennis player with a promising future in the sport, she instead decides that she wants to attend expensive New York University to study writing. Thus Dan must come up with the college money that a sports scholarship would have provided. Another financial worry is the news, at first a relief that it does not involve Alex, that Dan’s wife Ann is pregnant. Clearly this middle-aged man needs to hold on to his job!

About that romance between Alex and Carter (kept secret from Dan). It is not hard to see why Alex would fall for Topher Grace’s Carter Duryea, “cute and charming” being good words for describing him. Although Carter is the darling of his immediate boss and has the eye of the head of the corporation Teddy K (an uncredited Malcolm McDowell), he knows that he has risen far faster and higher than his 26 years warrant. In a “meet cute” encounter with Alex in the elevator ascending to the magazine offices, neither knowing the other and Alex dropping by to say Hi to her dad, Carter says that he is taking on a new job and he doesn’t know what he is doing. Only later at her home, to which the lonely Carter (his own marriage has just broken up) has invited himself, when they meet for the second time, do they recognize the identity of each other.

Dan, swallowing his dismay, has accepted his demotion, even though this means he must give up his corner office with the view. As noted before, he needs the job, with Alex wanting to enter the college of her choice, a pregnant wife, and a mortgage to keep up. Carter also needs Dan, the older man’s experience and judgment being years beyond him at the present. At the first staff meeting Carter parrots Globe.com’s corporate double speak about “synergy,” claiming that the goal of a 35% increase in ad revenue ordered by his superiors can be met by advertising the products of other companies owned by Globe.com. Dan holds his tongue during the meeting, but later raises the obvious question of how receiving ad revenue from a sister company is going to raise the over-all revenue of Globe.com.

Carter also has been ordered to cut expenses drastically at the magazine, which means staff lay-offs. Soon several of Dan’s cherished associates are let go, the most difficult being the case of Mortie (David Paymer). Dan himself assumes this odious task in the belief that it will be easier for the men to accept bad news from someone they know and respect than from an outsider. The subplot involving Mortie is the most poignant, he being too old and at too high of a salary level to find another job, his fate confirming his wife’s harsh opinion of his inadequacy.

My caveat about the realism of the depiction of corporate life arises from the scene in which Teddy K, the self-styled genius of the business world, comes to look over his new acquisition. The computer monitor on every desk flashes the announcement (read warning) that the high-powered CEO is on his way. Everyone assembles in a hall and stand in adoration as he pontificates a lot of corporatese. Dan had earlier reacted negatively when Carter espoused his warmed over version at his first staff meeting. Filled with terms such as “synergism” and laced with catchy phrases, the speech evokes smiles and exclamations of assent from the crowd gazing up in rapt attention. Then Dan interrupts with a question. Total silence in the hall. Dan follows up with what amounts to a polite declaration that what they have heard is bull——. Teddy K has no comeback, other than to say something like “Interesting,” and then walks out. From there on the film moves more into fantasyland than realism. I prefer Jerry Maguire where such courage receives the same reward as it would in a real corporation—security guards ushering the interloper out of the building.

Still, the film is enjoyable, Dennis Quaid as always turning in a fine performance. As another example of a film in which Big Business is the Bad Guy (after all the Evil Empire is no longer around for filmmakers to villainize), Weitz’s latest falls short of a really dark comedy like Network, but it will do, even providing some thoughtful moments, especially when David Paymer is on screen. The sexual mores of the young couple are as secular as are their lives, but otherwise the film’s assertion, shown in how Dan relates to his associates and customers, that a genuine concern for others is better than power and self centeredness, is well taken.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) In what ways do we see that the author of Proverbs might consider Dan as “righteous”?

2) How is Carter “strong”? But would the biblical writer consider him “wise”? How does his first purchase after his promotion smack more of “foolishness” than wisdom? What happens to his shiny new possession immediately? An example of the fall or “destruction” that accompanies pride (Prov. 16:18)?

3) What do you make of the coporatese that Carter espouses? Have you encountered such at your work place? How have church leaders espoused such in implementing new programs or in its plans of re-organization? (For a funny example of the latter see the bishop’s press conference near the beginning of the film Dogma.)

4) Carter has an inside track to wealth and promotion, and yet how does he regard himself as an outsider? What happens in his private life that feeds this feeling? How does he attempt to deal with this? What does he regard with longing that Dan has?

5) Compare the scene in which Dan calls into question Teddy K’s grandiose speech with the one in Jerry Maguire in which Jerry reads his Manifesto to his office colleagues. Although also a romantic comedy, how is the latter film more realistic? Have there been practices or policies at your work place that you would like to question or correct? Have you been able to do so—and if so, how? Or, why not?

6) How is the romance between Carter and Alex handled in a typical secular way? What, from a Christian perspective, might you change in the scene in Alex’s dormitory room?

7) How is Carter a changed person by the end of the film? Did it end as you wished—or is this ending a better or more realistic way? At what points might you see the hand of God in the film?