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Loose in his skin

In Good Company is not actually a comedy. Easy to be fooled, considering that it was marketed as one. Really, though, it’s a light drama about a hotshot young executive who’s risen too quickly for his own good. I wouldn’t represent it as deep, or anything, but it’s charming and — here and there — touching.

There’s a kind of division of responsibility going on. Topher Grace is the guy who gets character development; he’s the wunderkind who becomes Dennis Quaid’s boss when Sports America is purchased by a big megacorp. He gets to find out what it means to be an adult. Dennis Quaid is the guy who gets to act, which perhaps was not the intention of the director, but he does have the harder job. Topher is supposed to be callow, a bit shallow, and he spends a lot of the movie putting on a game face despite being terrified. The plot falls apart if Dennis Quaid can’t be angry at Topher while coming to care about him. Fortunately, Quaid turns in one of those excellent worn performances he’s capable of doing when he puts his mind to it, and thus grounds the film.

Topher is, mind you, pretty good. He hasn’t quite gotten the trick of shaking the mannerisms he uses in That 70’s Show, but they work well in this context and he can act his way out of a paper bag or two. I feel obliged to note his uncanny resemblance to a young Kyle MacLachlan while I’m at it. He could walk right into Twin Peaks and pick up the role without, I think, missing a beat.

Also, there’s Scarlett Johansson, who plays the same luminous unattainable that she played in The Man Who Wasn’t There, Girl With A Pearl Earring, and Lost in Translation. This is sort of a complaint on my part, but on the other hand, she’s really good at it.

On the whole I liked it. It had generally good acting. It had Philip Baker Hall, always a plus. It told a story without being overly sentimental; it had the courage to reject the romantic comedy tropes. If you were so inclined, you could watch first this, then Lost in Translation, and very easily pretend that the one was the sequel to the other — Paul Weitz is not as melancholy a director as Sofia Coppola, and he wasn’t making an indie flick here, but he’s drawing on the same material.

Although there are differences in philosophy. The most unexpected thing about In Good Company, for me, was that it declines the opportunity to take a general stance against corporations and men in suits. You might expect Dennis Quaid, who’s been working for Sports America for decades, to wind up taking a daring stance as the scales fall from his eyes and he realizes the evils of working in sales. You’d be wrong. What he says is that you should do what you love, and that you should do what you believe in. He happens to believe in sales.

It’s not as if the burdens of responsibility are a fresh new theme in Hollywood movies. Quite possibly I’m simply charmed because it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that addresses them in the corporate context without irony. Welcome, the new sincerity! But — despite my own irony — I enjoyed it.

One final critique. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” has now been used on two motion picture soundtracks, In Good Company and Vanilla Sky. It’s already cliched, and nobody should ever use it again.

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