Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Thursday, January 13, 2005  

In Good Company

I screened the new film, In Good Company, tonight as part of a marketing scheme by Grace Hill Media to involve bloggers in spreading the message. It's a wise plan, but it sure felt a bit strange to me to be in the reserved "Press" section.

Another odd part was that the screening was more like a sneak preview since the theater was full of people who had gotten comp tickets to watch it.

It allowed me to gauge the audience's take (which was positive, the folks laughed a lot more than I did) against my own response, but I find I don't like watching movies with an audience anymore. People just don't know how to behave, and that included some blogger behind me who couldn't have munched popcorn or rummaged any louder in the bag for his handfuls while wafting the air around me with popcorn breath, all the while making comments about the movie or anticipating lines.

I will say that it doesn't bode well for a movie when people are audibly predicting coming lines and doing so accurately on numerous occasions.

For this feel good dramedy it didn't help when one women found expository scenes or dialog equally funny as the gags and amusing situations. I guess some people find the set up or premise for comedy so funny that it carries over to the unfunny scenes so that they just keep laughing over what just happened while expecting something what’s to come to be funnier.

Steve Beard at NRO describes the set up

Dan Foreman is knee deep in a mid-life crisis. At age 51, he has no time to buy a Harley Davidson, take flying lessons, or battle the rapids on a white-water death wish as some men do. His wife is having a baby (a surprise), his daughter is headed off to college, and his company has been bought by a huge multinational corporation. Along the way, Dan has to take out a second mortgage and discovers that he has been demoted and must now work for Carter Duryea, a 26-year-old. Oh yeah, by the way, his brand-new superior — someone half his age — is involved in a clumsy and covert romantic relationship with Dan's 19-year daughter.

Dennis Quaid is the dad, Topher Grace is the young boss, and Scarlett Johansson the daughter.

There are no real surprises in this movie although the ending must be given credit because it is truer than such movies of this type generally are, and for that I am grateful.

Dennis Quaid is the only major cast member who brings weight to the film. The two younger actors don’t seem to be able to find any depth in their roles, and Scarlett Johansson seems oddly twitchy in a number of scenes. They don’t find any depth because there isn’t any there for them to find.

The movie strains for its comedy and its seriousness while being watchable at the same time. It is pleasant, and although there are few laugh out loud moments (although the audience would disagree with me), there are many times when I find myself with an amused smile on my face. I enjoyed watching things play out. I cared about Dennis Quaid and his situation, which is the core of the film, and didn’t mind the rest so much.

I just wish that these skim the surface of life movies would actually dip a little deeper from time to time.

When the father tells his two older daughters at the end of the movie that they have a sister, the oldest asks him if he is happy (since it’s not a boy) and he says something like, “Oh yes.”

Why can’t he do more than grin, mutter a banality, and say, “There isn’t any joy greater than being a father, bringing life into the world, having a child to raise.”

Movie makers now believe that images can do anything, but they can’t. We need to hear the words. People are not as inarticulate as movies make them out to be. (At least, I’m not.)

If we’re going to celebrate ordinary family life which is part of what this film tries to do to its credit, then let’s hear about the joys of universal human things in real language.

Another example of a missed opportunity for depth comes when Carter visits Alex, the daughter in her dorm room, to explain himself after their relationship has been exposed to the father. Alex gets up from the bed where she had been reading a book (the roommate answered the door). She puts the book splayed down where we can see the cover, and it looks to me like it is a collection Wordsworth's poetry. I can’t quite tell since the moment was brief and it's not that easy to read the titles.

Well, Wordsworth was a great poet, and I wanted to know why she was reading it (for a class no doubt), what she thought of what she was reading, and what Carter might have thought or wondered about it. The book could have acted as a stepping stone into a much deeper exposition of the people, and provided the audience with a moment of deep beauty in the form of a line or two of rich poetry or a comment on it.

That’s the problem with the movie. It consistently goes for the obvious and shallow aspects of these characters and their conflicts.

Don’t pay for this movie at the theater. Wait for video and you will avoid a high cost and also the cell phones, the popcorn munchers, talkers out loud, and silly laughers over nothing people.

On the positive side it does celebrate the family, the dad (which is a rarity these days), responsibility to and for others, and moral kindness in the workplace, that is, respect for labor and commitment to work.

Every now and then Hollywood makes a movie like this or Parenthood which wants to be sweet and feature life lessons on goodness in the family or business world, but it all falls short because Hollywood either romanticizes ordinary life in the most lugubrious way or despises it in the most contemptuous manner. Hollywood never seems to get it right, and we must blame the process, for sweet and simple has to run a gauntlet of committees that keep pushing it into a formula that fails.

The very idea of sweet and simple in Hollywood is impossible since it can’t be trusted to work. Hucksters can never believe that pure and simple are what sells, that uncomplicated virtues or qualities can be of interest to people since no one in Hollywood feels uncomplicated or pure or simple.

These are people who would turn the Sermon on the Mount into a Powerpoint presentation with bullet points, a flash animation, some kind of music motifs, and special lenses for the various shots.

Hollywood can’t help but gild the lily, and that’s its biggest weakness -- it rarely knows how to connect with an audience on the most resonant levels. A Forrest Gump now and then, but rare as I said.

This movie wants to be a feel good comedy drama (dramedy) and ends being a pleasant, mildly entertaining way to pass the time for two hours. Quickly forgettable.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 9:42 PM |