In Good Company

"Achievement without love is a cold and tight-lipped murderer of human happiness everywhere."

If I were responsible for teaching MBA students about modern corporate maneuvering, I'd make sure they saw "In Good Company," a cautionary tale about the horrors of corporate merger and its twin, globalization. Director Paul Weitz has Mike Nichols' unfailing instincts about youthful ambition and mid-life crises set against a backdrop of family pressures and corporate greed.

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), 51, is a sales manager being demoted in a merger while taking on a 26-year-old boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace, Traffic), whose claim to the job is successful marketing of cell phones to children (I sure hope this idea doesn't catch. Don't we have too many already? phones, not kids!). The downsizing often accompanying such acquisitions is carefully presented, painful as it is for anyone rifted after good years with a good company. Foreman, always the humanist, suffers every time anyone leaves, a sign of his success as a caring sales professional and his vulnerability as a friend.

Carter's lack of experience keeps balance between him and Foreman, who remains honest to a fault but nonetheless a superior shadow mentor for the rising star. What happens in the shuffling of careers and reality checks for middle-aged employees is no surprise, although Carter's falling in love with Dan's daughter, Alex (Scarlett Johansson), lends a different turn of the screw to screwed up corporate and personal relationships.

The original musical score by Stephen Trask (Hedwig) has a lyrical sweetness reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel's Graduate music and is mood and meaning right on. When Weitz features a fish tank and strategic rain, he acknowledges Mike Nichols' deftly placed water motif in The Graduate. That Carter, like Benjamin, has not yet found himself or his ambitions serves as the final note of assurance that I am in Nichols territory.

I would call "In Good Company" a drama rather than a comedy unless you insist that corporate morality is a grand metaphor for the human comedy. Dr. Smiley Blanton, in his "Love or Perish," wrote well about business and private lives: " Men err when they think they can be inhuman exploiters in their business life, and loving husbands and fathers at home. For achievement without love is a cold and tight-lipped murderer of human happiness everywhere."