Issue Date: February 4, 2005
Growing up is hard to do
'In Good Company' and 'Finding Neverland' show men learning to mature
By JOSEPH CUNNEEN
In Good Company, a new comedy written and directed by Paul Weitz, starts out as if its going to be a satiric exposé of contemporary corporate culture. It settles, however, for something less: being a good-natured comedy about the relationship between two men of different generations who find themselves misplaced by the vagaries of business. Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), the likable 51-year-old head of advertising for Sports America, is suddenly replaced by a 26-year-old hotshot, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who has apparently impressed someone in the parent company because of his success in selling cell phones to children. The movies exaggerations dont quite work since the slightly built Carter doesnt seem to have the needed self-confidence to inspire the world of corporate sharks. His opening remarks to underlings about synergy come through as farcical rather than impressive, and hes incapable of saying fired to employees who are deemed expendable. This means that Dan, worried about a fall in income after his wife tells him she is soon to have a third child, is still indispensable though he is officially Carters subordinate.
The developing relationship between the two men is really the center of the film. Carter is clearly beyond his depth -- his wife of seven months has just told him shes leaving -- while Dan has the underlying strength of a much-loved husband and father and enough experience to be unimpressed by the whims of corporate intrigue. In Good Company is mistakenly being marketed as a romantic comedy, but though its plot mechanics include an improbable and tasteless affair between Carter and Dans daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson), a glamorous 18-year-old university student, the movie is really about a corporate boy wonder growing up under the tutelage of a older man who knows who he is. Dennis Quaid, as reliable as he is strong, seems capable of making old-fashioned masculinity attractive again. In Good Company doesnt try for realism, but has enough clever lines and shrewd humor to make the final result likable hokum.
Finding Neverland, now up for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, is based on the play by Allan Knee, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, and tells the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write his classic. Johnny Depp as Barrie shows Victorian reserve and youthful charm as he plays in a park with the four attractive boys of the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet). He teaches them how to make spoons stick to their noses and is able to persuade them that his shaggy dog is a bear.
Sylvias mother (Julie Christie) disapproves of Barrie making himself part of this family, but the film goes to some pains to repress any suspicion that his devotion to the boys is unhealthy. The movie leaves scenes and lines in the memory, particularly about the early death of Barries own brother, that help to explain why he needs to believe in Neverland. Lots of questions remain open, however, since Barrie seems to completely ignore his social-climbing wife (Radha Mitchell).
What made Neverland work for me is that it is largely presented as a play within the movie, with backstage confusion, comic rehearsals and Dustin Hoffman as a worried manager who stands to lose money on the show. Older children may rebel at the films old-fashioned sweetness, but parents might want to introduce those up through the sixth grade to something beyond cartoonish vulgarity. Director Marc Forster shows a good feel for the period of the story, the music is attractive and affirmative, as is the setting, and its hard not to be charmed by the ease with which the children fly. Barrie doesnt really have an answer when Peter, the boy he is closest to, asks, Why do people have to die? but his honesty shows that the film is wise enough to avoid total escapism.
Joseph Cunneen is NCRs regular movie reviewer. His e-mail address is SCUNN24219@aol.com.
National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2005
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