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Review: Quaid film is very 'Good Company'

Top-notch script, fine acting make for terrific film

By Paul Clinton
Dennis Quaid (right) ends up demoted -- and working for a much younger boss (Topher Grace) -- in "In Good Company."
Scarlett Johansson
Topher Grace
Dennis Quaid

(CNN) -- In the film "In Good Company," Dennis Quaid's character, ad executive Dan Foreman, lives out a fear hidden inside millions of American men and women over 50 -- losing their job just when they are hitting their stride professionally.

Foreman has played by the rules all his life and is living the so-called American Dream. He's respected by peers and clients as the head of ad sales for a weekly New York-based sports magazine. He has a loving wife, Ann, played beautifully by Marg Helgenberger ("Erin Brockovich," TV's "CSI") and two daughters, the oldest of which, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), is just entering New York University.

Then suddenly his world spins out of control. A large corporation takes over the magazine and he finds himself downsized to a lower position. And Foreman's new boss is 26-year-old Carter Duryea, played by Topher Grace ("Traffic," TV's "That '70s Show").

Blindly ambitious, Carter is having his own personal problems. His wife of seven months (a one-note performance from Selma Blair) has asked for a divorce and he's so lonely he invites himself to Dan's home for dinner. There he meets Alex. When they embark on a secret affair, things get very complicated very fast.

Lives in the balance

"In Good Company" benefits from a layered, extremely thoughtful and greatly amusing script by Paul Weitz, who also directed. (Yes, this is the same Weitz who co-wrote and directed "American Pie," but he also did the excellent "About a Boy.")

The story poses a simple question: How do we balance a career with a full, outside-the-office life and a family? The answer is, we don't. Today, it's nearly impossible to have control over both your professional and personal life. Both Dan and Carter have to explore hard truths, and the film doesn't shy away from their conclusions.

This character-driven story is tailor-made for Quaid. Still strikingly handsome, the actor hits just the right tone, demonstrating the choices and emotions faced by a man deeply entrenched in his personal life and still fully evolved in a job he loves.

Dan Foreman is still vital, still determined to maintain his dignity and sense of manhood, yet increasingly subject to situations he can't control.

Great cast

Johansson, Grace
Grace's character ends up in a romance with his new underling's daughter, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Johansson is proving to be an actress who not only holds the screen in every role she plays, she also has a exceptional gift for picking material that matches her remarkable talents. (She has help here from her mother, who's her manager.)

And Grace is terrific playing a young man who is out of his depth, both at work and in his scrambled personal life. Once Dan is demoted, many of his co-workers look at him as if he's a dinosaur. But Carter, Grace's character, realizes he has much to learn from the older employee -- and ultimately learns some hard-won lessons from a man he has made into an unlikely father figure.

David Paymer, as a salesman at the magazine, and Philip Baker Hall, as a sporting goods business owner, also turn in potent and poignant performances as older men facing the fear and helplessness of losing their livelihoods -- and vitality.

This remarkable ensemble cast delivers on the spirit of an outstanding script. "In Good Company," which came out at the end of 2004 but earns a wide release Friday, gets 2005 off to a very good start.

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