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Chris Utley's commentary on In Good Company

Review Copyright Chris Utley, 2005

In Good Company

In Good Company
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Stars: Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Selma Blair, Amy Aquino
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50-something year old Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), hard working advertising sales executive for Sports America magazine, is forced to readjust his life to an ever-changing world. A large corporation purchases his magazine’s parent company and Dan (and his sales team) gets a hard and swift introduction to the business concept called “outsourcing”. After 20-something years at his post, Dan is now forced to be the “wingman” for his new boss: 20-something year old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who made his ascent up the corporate ladder marketing cell phones for kids in one of the many subdivisions of the large corporation. Carter’s mission: to groom Dan in the concept of “synergy”—cross promotion of various products made and manufactured by the same company (in layman’s terms, synergy would be a Universal Pictures film starring actors from a Universal TV series with commercials for the film being advertised endlessly on NBC watched on a TV made by General Electric. The catch: General Electric not only makes the TV, but they also own Universal Pictures, Universal Television and NBC. That’s synergy, folks). To the new owners, Dan is a dinosaur. He and his team are the last of a dying breed and need to be put out of their misery. Its Carter’s job to insure that said misery is fulfilled. Not bad for a 20-something hot shot that’s just purchased a new Porsche.

But, at the end of the day, when the meetings are over and sales pitches are concluded for the day, Carter’s life is in shambles. The aforementioned new Porsche? Hit by a truck while driving it off the showroom floor. His wife of 7 months has her bags packed and divorce papers in hand. Carter is a public success but a private failure. Dan, on the other hand, has a lovely wife and 2 daughters-one of which, Alex, (Scarlet Johansson) has recently been accepted to NYU. On top of that, much to his shock, his wife is pregnant with yet another child. Dan may be viewed as a dinosaur in his new corporate environment, but his home life is seemingly perfect…so perfect that that his oldest daughter labels their family as “cursed with the gift of functionality.”

One night, after a Sunday afternoon marathon sales meeting, Dan accidentally invites Carter over for dinner. This accidental invitation gives Carter a first hand glimpse of Dan’s happy life. Carter is immediately taken by what he sees…especially Alex. Much to Carter’s delight, the feeling is mutual. That’s synergy on a whole new level! How will they keep their budding relationship from Dan? How will Carter’s intrusion into Dan’s life affect their business relationship? How much will these men learn about themselves and each other in the process?

One could label In Good Company a “chick flick” for guys. That’s not a far-fetched description. It’s also an excellent and enjoyable film. Writer/Director Paul Weitz (he and his brother Chris are also responsible for About A Boy and the first American Pie film) continues his exploration into the deeper places of the masculine heart and mind through this film. Many men in the world find themselves caught between the push-and-pull between public and private success. We see guys who have worked diligently and faithfully in the workforce find themselves and their colleagues forced out of their position and replaced by younger talent. They wrestle with rejection and their confidence takes a major blow. We also see guys who have not achieved the pinnacle of financial and professional success yet have wonderful marriages and families that have managed to stay together for better or worse. The successful guy often finds himself making the statement “I’d give up all of this money and success in a heartbeat if I could have the life and the love that he has”.

This juxtaposition is the thing that struck me the most regarding this film. It’s clear through the film that Dan and Carter want to trade places…to a certain extent. Dan has already achieved a level of professional success in his career. The film does not show Dan being envious of Carter’s money. It does show Dan’s frustration with the changing mentality of the business world. Dan’s prescribes to the “old school” way of doing business where a man’s word is his bond. It’s about building relationships and giving customers the space to make their own decisions without being pressured and pestered. The new business world is shown as one where decisions are made without consideration of the lives and careers of those whom they affect. The only thing that matters is the bottom line. And the bottom line is $$$.

While Carter is a product of this new school business model and has the professional and external trappings of success, he finds himself making the aforementioned statement about trading away that success for a life similar to Dan’s. His attraction and relationship with Alex is symbolic of this longing. He finds himself sharing information about himself that he could never share during a power lunch. Ultimately he makes the statement that, whenever he’s around Alex, he finds the incredible urge to be honest. Their connection awakes his desire for what is real. The money & success pale by comparison to the feeling of being known, being love, and finding your place in the world. I truly enjoyed watching Topher Grace’s performance. He truly convinced me that I was taking the journey alongside him.

Ultimately, Carter’s destination takes him to a final outcome that is, wisely, the antithesis of the typical Hollywood ending. The film’s ending may not sit well with those viewers who shell out matinee prices to dream for 2 hours, but the ending is steeped in reality. God puts people in our lives to help us find our path in life. Similar to the close of this film, our path may not be the exact path of the person whose life we’re studying, but the most important things we learn from our experience are: (1) God & Jesus do want us to find our path in life; and (2) They want us to learn as much as we can from our life’s mentors and teachers. Dennis Quaid does an excellent job showing us Dan’s transformation from being Carter’s employee to becoming Carter’s mentor. Through this unplanned and unwanted circumstance, Dan becomes a role model, a source of wisdom and guidance, and ultimately, a father figure that Carter desperately needs. Watching Dan and Carter still makes me thank God for the mentors and teachers and father figures in my life…and also makes me long for more of the same.

In Good Company is worth checking out. Complex, funny, and real, it’s a film about finding our way and it’s a tribute to those who have helped us to find it. It’s not a bad way to start the new year!

As always, I'm available to argue at or

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