Friday, January 14, 2005

Synergy

In Good Company, the first film screened in USC's Leonard Maltin class, is a strong, enjoyable film that I would recommend to anyone considering seeing it. Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid both turn in strong performances, and the romance between Grace and Scarlett Johannsen is handled sensibly and realistically.

Watching the trailer and TV spots for the movie, it seems pleasant enough, but you don't get a sense of a major hook to draw you in. Indeed, there isn't one. The story is low-key and the conflicts are subtle and simmering. For those unfamiliar, Topher Grace is a young corporate marketing hotshot brought in to replace the demoted Dennis Quaid as head of magazine ad sales after a big merger. Dennis Quaid has to deal with aging and pressures of family while Topher Grace has to deal with having nothing but a career in his empty life. And eventually, Topher Grace starts sleeping with Johannsen, who's Dennis Quaid's college-aged daughter.

It's all very well done, and while it's peppered with funny character moments, it's not nearly as funny as About a Boy (co-directed by In Good Company's director, Paul Weitz, with his brother Chris), nor does it seem intended to be. In fact, while it has a light, pleasant tone, it's hard to say whether it's really a comedy. Comedy-drama might come closer. It's smartly written, and the lack of laughs isn't really due to any failings--it's not like any jokes go thudding onto the floor. Well, perhaps some of the stuff having to do with Grace's colleague, an over-the-top corporate lackey with cultlike enthusiasm for Rupert Murdoch stand-in Teddy K., played by Malcolm McDowell, if only because it feels too much like "comedy" when the rest of the movie feels real. By and large, the film is more interested in following its characters truthfully than wringing laughs from situations where they don't naturally occur.

In a live Q&A after the screening, writer/director Paul Weitz revealed that the original title for the film was "Synergy," until he realized that was a better title for either a sci-fi film or a more cold, bloodless corporate satire than he intended to make.

In the future, I may not be able to respond to the screenings so promptly. We will often be watching advance screenings of stuff with all sorts of security and confidentiality concerns. They'll actually take away cameras and camera-phones for fear of piracy, so I imagine they wouldn't want any blogging about it either. A major site like this could start an avalanche of negative buzz.

5 comments:

C said...

you can't name a movie after the jem computer, that's just silly.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

That would be outragous. Truely, truely, truely outrageous.

Anonymous said...

what did you think about the camera work?

for example, when quaid, grace, and the teddy k stooge are verbally threatening one another there would be an extreme close-up on quaid, cut to same on grace, cut to same on stooge, repeat 4 more times, establish medium length shot, back to round of close-ups, establishing long range shot, medium, close up, medium, close up, long, close ups, repeat.

this happened at least once every 5 minutes. i wanted to take the camera away from the director and hit him over the head with it.

-michele

Kenny said...

I would call that an editing issue as much, if not more than, camera work. I didn't really notice it, but I could see how that would nag at you once you notice the pattern. To be fair, it's hard to stage and cover a scene in a small room with lots of people. How would you have done it? Less cuts? More medium shots? In tense stand-offs like that, you want to make sure the audience registers character reactions, since that's the only way we know how they're feeling.

JMV said...

I was very pleasantly surprised by In Good Company. I thought the script was very Strong, and as you mentioned the performances really hit their marks. As for the camera/editing issues, I too noticed the use of extreme close-ups, but I thought they were used to good effect. It served to stress the confines (both physical and ideological) of the corporate landscape, and I thought it was an interesting way to play with the hyper-sensitivity of these high-strung characters in a high-pressure environment.