Seen at the Movies: Though it often feels like first-rate TV, Paul Weitz’s In Good Company is a likable enough movie, buoyed by excellent performances from Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace. Quaid plays a middle-aged sports magazine ad executive who after a corporate takeover finds himself with an exceedingly green and overconfident young boss, whom Grace endows with an strain of ingenuousness you can’t help but find appealing. The plot thickens when Grace becomes involved with Quaid’s teenage daughter (Scarlett Johansson). The film does give some play to the subject of workplace ageism, though its predictably feel-good conclusion is clearly a cheat. Also, its skewering of the concept of corporate synergy is a bit suspect coming from a media conglomerate like Universal, which is owned by NBC (or vice versa—I can never keep these things straight). Part of what makes this modestly entertaining movie seem like TV is its generic look, courtesy DP Remi Adefarasin and production designer William Arnold. The film is supposed to be set in New York and its suburbs, but most of it certainly felt like Hollywood to me.
Scarlett Johansson also appears in Shainee Gabel’s A Love Song for Bobby Long, a tawdry, super-cut-rate Tennessee Williams-style tale about a trio of southern eccentrics. Johansson is Pursy Will, an uneducated young woman who shows up at her late mother’s New Orleans house to find it occupied by the bookish, alcoholic title character (John Travolta) and his bookish, alcoholic friend and acolyte Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht). Those character names are fragrant with literary rot, and so is the movie, which is not believable for one second, and which has a coy gay subtext that seems to hail from 1950-something. DP Elliot Davis, production designer Sharon Lomofsky, and costume designer Jill Ohanneson work hard to give the film some atmosphere, even if that atmosphere is pretty theatrical. The rundown house the characters share comes off a latter-day Tobacco Road shack, and Travolta’s ragged linen suits and old robes fairly shout dissolute southern poet.
Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ tacky 70s-era polyester suits for Sean Penn’s character in The Assassination of Richard Nixon signal a very different kind of loser. Penn plays Sam Bicke, a based-in-fact furniture salesman who gets it into his delusional head that the president is to blame for all of his troubles—estrangement from his wife (Naomi Watts), loss of job, denial of bank loans for harebrained business schemes—and therefore decides to hijack an airplane and fly it into the White House. Penn buries himself under the skin of this demented sad sack the way Robert De Niro did with The King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin, and he has a disfiguring haircut and moustache to match De Niro’s in the earlier film. Though I can hardly fault the acting or filmmaking (Niels Mueller is the director), I have a constitutional aversion to movies centered on characters like Bicke, who start out as objects of humiliation and have nowhere to go but down. The period details are well rendered by production designer Lester Cohen, and DP Emmanuel Lubezki gives the movie a dark tone that only increases its oppressiveness.--John Calhoun