A recently demoted ad man must learn to get along with his new boss, an unskilled corporate ladder-climber half his age.
As the advertising sales director for Sports America magazine, Dan Foreman has invested his best years in building relationships with clients and co-workers. He loves what he does. Moreover, he believes in it. Then, without warning, a soulless conglomerate called Globecom buys up the company, demoting this middle-aged stalwart and replacing him with a 26-year-old Globecom go-getter. The boyish Carter Duryea knows nothing about ad sales, but tries to win over his new staff by enthusiastically tossing around terms like “synergy” and “factoids.” Naturally, Dan resents the transition and is impatient with Carter, who feverishly monitors the bottom line, and gets pressure from the top to fire many of Dan’s old colleagues.
Meanwhile, the two men’s personal lives couldn’t be more different. The workaholic Carter is in the process of being dumped by his wife of seven months. He’s a lonely guy who sleeps in his office and calls Sunday staff meetings. By comparison, Dan is a family man who lives in the suburbs with two teenage daughters and his lovely wife, Ann, who is suddenly pregnant again. As Carter is signing divorce papers, Dan is taking out a second mortgage on his house so that his eldest, Alex, can study writing at NYU.
The question is, who is more successful? Carter’s career may be taking off while Dan appears to be “downwardly mobile,” yet a visit to Dan’s warm, happy home makes the affable young buck green with envy. Among the things that catch his eye is Alex. In case Dan didn’t have enough reasons to hold the Porsche-driving, cost-cutting, know-nothing Carter in contempt, the young man starts dating her behind Dan’s back. Either these Alpha males will develop a mutual respect and admiration, or Dan might just murder the kid.
Materialism and ladder-climbing appear empty compared to the stable family life Dan and Ann have built. Epiphanies cause characters to rethink vain, empty pursuits. Even Carter’s Porsche—a symbol of pride and position—gets wrecked on the way out of the dealership, and remains symbolically scarred throughout the film. Divorce is portrayed as a painful process. It’s also implied that a broken home has taken its toll on Carter, who carries emotional baggage from not having a strong male role model in his life.
Dan shares an open relationship with his daughters, and spends lunch hours playing tennis with her. Just a few months along in her pregnancy, Ann has an ultrasound and we hear the baby’s heartbeat—a beautiful scene that celebrates the undeniable life inside the womb.
Professionally, Dan works hard yet maintains a healthy balance. He respects people more highly than numbers, and isn’t one to delegate tough tasks. When he learns that old pals are being fired, he nobly asks Carter to let him be the one to break it to them. One thanks Dan for being a good boss. As a salesman, Dan isn’t a fan of the “hard sell” and shows an interest in his clients’ lives. He speaks up for what he believes and isn’t afraid to question the ideas of a revered Globecom guru. Carter’s respect for Dan (and genuine affection for Alex) leads him to protect Dan’s job in the face of cutbacks.
Artwork in Alex’s dorm room shows a woman meditating in the lotus position. Carter explains that his dad joined a cult. As the credits roll, an ambiguous song mentions heaven, angels and Lucifer.
A man is vilified for having verbally harassed a woman. Dan finds an empty pregnancy test box in the trash and worries that it belongs to Alex. (It’s actually Ann’s.) Carter asks his departing wife if she has been sleeping with someone else. She says yes, but that she broke it off. Alex tells Carter that, because she was a serious athlete in high school, rumors swirled that she was a lesbian. We figure out that the gossip isn't true when she kisses Carter and invites him up to her dorm room where she initiates sex (the act is merely implied). Later, Dan confronts the couple and asks Alex point-blank if she has been sleeping with Carter.
Dan’s temper gets the best of him at times. Bad news leads him to hurl a baseball angrily across a room. He drops Carter with one punch, then threatens someone tempted to intervene. Dan takes a hard fall during a basketball game. Ad guys escort a client to a rap concert featuring a gangsta respected for having been shot 12 times.
Crude or Profane Language
Approximately 50 profanities, crude expressions or uses of harsh anatomical/sexual slang. Dialogue includes nearly a dozen s-words and slightly more abuses of God’s name (“oh my god,” “g--d--n”). There are also several uses of “a--hole.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ann pours wine and Dan has a beer before dinner. A poster sporting a large marijuana leaf adorns a dormitory hallway. Dan tells a boy dating his younger child, “If you ever give my daughter an alcoholic beverage or a joint, I will hunt you down and neuter you.” Carter notes that his dad, who abandoned the family when he was four, dabbled in drugs. Men talk shop over beers at a bar. Carter throws back multiple coffees for the caffeine boost. At one point his heightened nervousness inspires Dan to ask if he “switched from mocha to crack.” A line suggests that alcohol may have some impact on Alex’s judgment on the night of her tryst with Carter, though she never shows any regret.
Other Negative Elements
To get the drop on friends gathered for his surprise party, Dan enters the house in boxer shorts and moons the videographer (rear nudity shown).
Like director Paul Weitz’s modest 2002 hit About a Boy, this comedy isn’t a side-splitter but rather a thoughtful character study tinged with sorrow and, ultimately, frosted with hope. But as I thought about the film, slept on it, then pondered it further with wrinkled brow, all I could hear was Russell Crowe’s haunting cry in Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?” And I had to reply, “Not really.” In Good Company isn’t a bad movie. It contains some terrific performances, especially by young Scarlett Johanssen and Topher Grace (star of TV’s That ‘70s Show), an actor who convinces us to dislike him, then pity him, then embrace him thanks to an awkward cockiness that’s sad and charming at the same time.
The movie also has its heart in the right place with solid statements about fidelity, preborn life, family ties and a man’s need to keep his career in perspective. Which character truly embodies success? Dan, and the filmmakers know it. In our world of globalization, corporate buyouts and professional uncertainty, people who have sacrificed everything for a job can find themselves outsourced or downsized through no fault of their own. They’re left scratching their heads with little to show for their efforts except a bloated bank account. Conversely, an investment in family yields long-term rewards, few regrets, and provides the necessary safety net when cruel corporate ironies send us reeling.
But in the final analysis, while I respect the film’s message and its assemblage of onscreen talent, it doesn't supply enough fun or riveting drama to call it great entertainment. (Crass language and Carter’s illicit dalliance with Alex don't help.) “Sort of interesting” may not be glowing praise, but it’s the best I can muster. Who knows, maybe all In Good Company needs is greater moral synergy and a few more factoids.