Thursday, March 10, 2005

In Good Company

It is a challenge to thoroughly explore this drama. It's an excellent film, which deals with many contemporary themes, with great character development brought out by a superb cast with chemistry. Whilst some might view this film through romantic lenses, I'd prefer to view this film differently, from another angle, probably because I'm a salaried man myself, and at times, see myself in one of the characters now (no prizes for guessing who).

This film's premise is steeped in the realities of today's business world of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs associated, of office politics and relationships, and of corporate jungle survival. Dennis Quaid plays a Dan, a senior sales manager in his 50s, juggling life with adolescent teenage daughters (the emphasis being Scarlett Johansson's Alex) and his wife, who's expecting their newborn baby, and with his job, when his company has just been bought over and merged into a conglomerate. Suddenly his career is filled with uncertainty, as everyone in the company is worried over whether they'd still have their jobs once the dust settles, with new management being put in place - and this means Dan is no longer the main man, but the "wingman".

As with businesses these days, the emphasis is always on revenue, sales numbers, and the bottom line. We are shown, through the cast members, the pain of being laid off. It never is easy being a manager, and the dread when you'd have to ask members of your team, the team you picked and groomed, to leave. Some see it coming, some take it in their stride, others just can't. And that's the job of Dan's new manager Carter Duryea (played by fresh faced Topher Grace), who's half Dan's age, tasked with increasing sales revenue, and trimming the bottom line.

The film is also about relationships, and relationships here are multi-fold. Dan and Carter do not hit it off on the right note, basically because Carter just waltzes right into Dan's job, even though he lacks the experience in the industry, but he's young, energetic, and a proven go-getter. Dan feels threatened - it's understandable, especially when you have to put food on the table, put your kids to University, and going to have a new addition to the family. You have mortgage to pay for, and I think many salaried men will identify immediately with the situation at hand. Carter knows he's a threat to Dan, but initially for his own selfish reasons, he keeps Dan by his side (he needed someone with experience to teach him the ropes), defying upper management preference to lay Dan off because of his fat salary, thus he lays off Dan's team members. One of the more poignant moment in the film, the most realistic I think, is when faced with the reality of survival, of You or the Other Man, what choice would you make?

But slowly and steadily, a mentor-mentee relationship forms between the two, until Carter falls for Dan's daughter Alex. Although their romance takes a backseat to the relationship between Dan and Carter, whatever romance is shown onscreen is sweet - their first dates, their long walks, their worry of letting Dan discover their secret. But there is also doubt if it'll work out - Alex wants to concentrate on school, and is worried that Carter is on a rebound after his divorce. Carter, on the other hand, we question his intentions, whether he just wants someone to fill his loneliness, or if he's really in love with Alex.

This film is also about the importance of family, and the lack thereof. We see Dan with his very normal functional family - strong relationships and love amongst everyone. Which Carter envies. We see Carter's broken marriage, his unsupportive and adulterous wife whom he divorces, a mention of his parents who separated, and of his loneliness, which resulted in burning weekends at the office, and inviting himself over to Dan's home for dinner, just to beat being alone. He's a modern day poor little rich kid, and I identify with him on the loneliness bit.

Sometimes. the film pokes fun at corporate values, mission statements, themes of synergy, and showcases the office balls-carrier. A good reminder is brought out in - in today's world, the only constant is change, so break down your arrogance, as you'll never know what the next merger or acquisition will bring. One day you're at the top, the next you might be out.

Peppered throughout are contemporary folk songs, which just seem to evoke the right emotions in you, at the right time it's played. Making contributions are Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill and singer of the moment Damien Rice's Cannonball.

Dennis Quaid is one of my favourite character actors, though I must add that this is the first movie I've seen him in since "Frequency". His Dan brings about the everyday man whom I can probably identify with, when I'm 50. Topher Grace shines with his role of Carter, the inexperience of youth being thrusted into the limelight and given heavy responsibilities. He tries to impress his new team with his can-do attitude, his enthusiasm for his job, but scores zero on his personal life (hmm.. kinda like me, now). Heck he even crashes his new Porsche when he leaves the showroom! And Scarlett Johansson is an angel - showing vulnerability as a coming of age teenager who has to decide whether to pursue her love for Carter, or to realize the sacrifices her dad made to put her in varsity, and to pursue her studies.

This show has a little something for everyone, and I'm sure you'll find that the comtemporary themes do ring a familiar bell in your life. My review above might seem a little heavy, but hey, I'm over-analysing, so no worries, go catch this one!

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