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In Good Company – business as unusual

don't look down - look left: if you dare

don't look down - look right: if you dare

In Good Company – Paul Weitz

They say many movies nowadays are pitched on a 5 line synopsis. It is beginning to show. In Good Company is a pleasant, undemanding, night at the movies. But it is a slither of an emotional idea whose uncomfortable facile build-up takes longer than its more satisfying, though sentimental resolution.

This is also another movie where the sheer quality of the acting and the charisma of the players has to cover the cracks of shallow thinking expressed in merely adequate writing. Dennis Quaid gets better and better; Scarlett Johanssen gets more beautiful; and relative newcomer Topher Grace even manages to live down quite the silliest name in movies, to rescue a first half embarrassment with a sympathetic Tobey Maguire-like charm in the better, later part of the film when it begins to engage us.

Johansson’s 19 year-old Alex gets one of the better lines when she says she is “cursed by a functional family” which offers her no excuse for bad behaviour. Mock stern Dad, Quaid, with a second mortgage to pay for Alex’s study at NYU, and a surprise third baby on the way, socks his cocky new young boss when he discovers his relationship with his perfect daughter.

IGC has a minor tilt at a few easy windmills. But it’s a bit like those popguns at the fair: the targets are very big and the lightweight corks just bounce off ineffectually. This is the ‘Life of a Salesman’ in a fundamentally benign sales culture that just needs the young hot shot ‘dot com’ gurus’ bubble to burst to get back to good, honest American sales values. Glengarry Glenross it ain’t, and poor old Willy Loman should have hung in there.

Recently, off-screen, Scarlett Johansson has been dressed like a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Let’s hope it ends there: we watched the disturbing process of Marilyn trying, and failing, to find herself on camera. This young lady already has talent that matches her obvious physical blessings; which include a quirky, lovely, husky voice by the way. But her greatest asset is an instinctive sense of ‘innerness’. However trite the part, or her dialogue, she still manages to convey a sense of intelligence and an intriguing and tantalising inner life. Sophia Copola made wonderful use of all these qualities in the superb Lost In Translation. In contrast, she has nothing really to do in IGC so she rolls out the demure schtick that she can produce without effort. But this is like asking a thoroughbred racehorse to deliver the coal for a while. If this luminous young actress is allowed, or forced, into becoming knowing, and losing her instinctive feeling for her acting, she will become unwatchable; hard though that may be to believe.

IGC is a civilised, no surprises, feel-good movie whose heart is in the right place even if its brain isn’t. Its performers manage to invest it with a certain lightweight charm. And no one gets killed, raped or scared out of their wits. So perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies.

(February 2005)

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