In Good Company ★★★

Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films (14) challenge.

I joined TIME magazine shortly after the merger with Warner Communications and in time to experience the acquisition of Turner Broadcasting in 1996. Fortunately, I had left the sprawling conglomerate before the AOL takeover, having witnessed firsthand how chaotic corporate acquisitions can be. So I came to this comedy from writer-director Paul Weitz with a sympathetic attitude, having read that it was about "a middle-aged magazine executive whose company is bought out by a large international corporation leaving him with a new boss who is nearly half his age."

Dennis Quaid stars as 50-something Dan Foreman, head of advertising at Sports America. He is happily married to his wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger) and father to two daughters, 16-year-old Jana (Zena Grey) and 18-year-old Alex (Scarlett Johansson), who lives at home and studies at SUNY. In the opening scene, we see Dan alone before sunrise, getting ready to catch a flight, when he finds an empty pregnancy test package in the kitchen waste bin. He immediately looks to the pictures of his daughters on the refrigerator, and we can just feel the the angst welling up.

Even as Dan meets with prospective client Eugene Kalb (Philip Baker Hall) in Los Angeles, the news breaks that his magazine's parent company, Waterman Publishing, is being acquired by Globecom, a diverse multinational owned by Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell). The announcement is made to Globecom staff by Mark Steckle (Clark Gregg), who has been tasked with "turning around marketing in the magazine division." Before he leaves, he tells young, ambitious cellphone salesman Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) that he will have him come out, too, to run ad sales at Sports America, because Teddy K wants the rising 26-year-old hotshot "groomed" for success.

Change comes quickly. Upon arriving home, Dan learns who is pregnant -- his wife! The next day at work, he learns he's been demoted to make room for Duryea, which means giving up his corner office. Everyone else in ad sales is talking about being fired. Then, Alex tells Dan she's been accepted as a transfer student by NYU; she wants to leave the suburbs to live in the City.

Change comes quickly to Duryea, too. To go with the new job, he buys himself a Porsche 911 Carrera -- and immediately gets into an accident. His arm in a sling, he returns home to his wife of seven months, Kimberly (Selma Blair), who has packed her bags and is leaving him to move in with her parents. To cope, he throws himself into his new job, with the goal of growing ad pages by 20 percent using "synergy" with Globecom's other divisions, such a Krispity Krunch cereal.

Over lunch at a Japanese restaurant with Duryea, Dan learns that in addition to increasing revenue, the ad sales department needs to cut $300,000 from payroll... immediately. The good news that he wants Dan to stay. The bad news is that he'll be "an awesome wingman," not a boss anymore. Bored and alone, Duryea calls a staff meeting on a Sunday afternoon and then invites himself over to Dan's for dinner. It's there that he begins to get to know Alex.

Weitz puts poor Dan through all the levels of corporate hell, from being forced to let go of long valued employees to bumping into "corporate policy" that causes him to lose clients. He's under the pressure of taking out a second mortgage to pay for Alex increased tuition and lodging costs plus the baby on the way. And Duryea isn't having it much better -- divorce followed by sleeplessness and a caffeine addiction. No surprise, when he sees Alex in the City, he opens up to her, and we all know where this is going.

I can't say I was impressed by Grace, but I think I would have hated it if casting had been able to get Ashton Kutcher to play Duryea as they wanted. ScarJo looks and acts young, but the part gave her a good stretch. She had just turned 20 at the time this was released. And Quaid is solid, but he's not commanding or even very funny. So the bottom line: it's a nice film in a vanilla kind of way, that reminded me of why I'm so happy I'm no longer part of corporate culture.

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