Rising like the Phoenix from the cadaverous swamps of Hollywood Forever, Dennis Quaid eyes the world with a wary but grateful squint, his face cracking like the clay from which he came with each grin, both natural and forced. It's the best smile in Hollywood — not like Julia Roberts' "How'd they do that?" Joker grin or Harrison Ford's "I'm smarter than you!" smirk, Quaid's honest face breaks into quiet laughter with deceptive ease. It's a smile that talks white cotton panties off of virgin ingénue thighs, a smile that gets free lapdances at Hogs & Heifers, a smile that makes meter maids flinch, a smile that would've earned him at least a dozen Employee of the Month plaques at the local Ford dealership if his life had turned out differently.
In Good Company is the best performance of Quaid's career. Then again, he's had a lousy one. Few box office hits, few standout performances and he even had to traverse Martin Short's colon. Stunt men have had better careers. Yet Quaid has hung around, picking up men in jeopardy roles in B-list flicks that require him to wear lots of olive and khaki. He's Tom Berenger with looks and a bigger paycheck.
For In Good Company, Quaid plays Dan Foreman, an advertising executive at a prominent sports magazine. He's in his 50s, he lives a comfortable life, he's well-respected. He doesn't have much, but what he has he's earned. After the company's publisher is bought by a mega-corporation, Quaid is pushed aside for sales wunderkind Carter Duryea, played by Topher Grace, who is half his age.
The film gets off track with Grace's relationship with Quaid's daughter Alex (the ever-breathy Scarlett Johansson), but otherwise its simple, play-it-straight tone works perfectly, as Grace's paper tiger persona wilts in the face of Quaid, the proverbial lion in winter. Written and directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie and About a Boy), Company balances the masculine embarrassments of Quaid and Grace well: the former being forced to confront his age, something he had usurped with his business-jock personality; the latter realizing that though his corporate ladder runs a rung higher, he may never achieve the peace that Quaid has attained. It's a tale of boys and men, and it's one of the finest pictures of the year.
Adam Sandler has a kind, generous heart. He comes from a close family, you can tell. A home where a net was always ready for his pratfalls, aspirin for his hangovers, a hug for his failures. His comedy works because there's a confidence that allows him to completely become the pawn of wily, mustachioed villains who have the world at their fingertips but no blood in their hearts. Sandler so easily becomes the loser because he himself has never been one, and his naïve grace prevents him from even acknowledging the possibility that it could ever happen to him. He has family, friends, hobbies, money and, most importantly, a big heart. Life is good and could probably be even better, but ambition does not concern him.
In the wonderful Spanglish, Sandler is the greatest chef in the United States. He's methodical. Late at night he constructs to-clog-for egg sandwiches, the yolk soaking through the bread just so. His John Clasky has the culinary world at his chopsticks, but the home life leaves much to be desired. His wife Deborah (the spectacular Téa Leoni) is manic and self-absorbed, his daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) is sweet but overweight and under-esteemed and his mother-in-law Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) is a kind alcoholic.
John is hardly the perfect man — he is shut off and avoids confrontation to ridiculous extremes — but his generosity carries him. He's a good man surrounded by women tormented by their mothers: Deborah the victim of a drunk's selfishness, Bernice the casualty of an obsessive jogger's physical diligence. And when Deborah hires beautiful Mexican illegal immigrant/single mother Flor Moreno (Paz Vega) to be the family's new housekeeper, it's only a matter of time before John seeks redemption in the bosom of this fiery Virgin Mary.
Flor immediately dislikes the gaucheness of Deborah, the way she barks "LEFT!" at pedestrians before passing them (sometimes even two or three blocks in advance), the way she manipulates Bernice, unable to see the sweetness that lies within her plump frame, the way her white guilt completely dominates every conversation between them. She knows this woman will never be her friend, and that it's a job that could disappear in a heartbeat. She is never comfortable in their home.
But Flor's unease finds an unlikely companion in John, himself even warier of attention (a rave New York Times review of his LA restaurant upsets him greatly) to the point that he finds relief being in the presence of someone with whom he cannot communicate, thanks to a language barrier. There are hints of Bottle Rocket's Anthony and Inez in John and Flor (James L. Brooks, who wrote and directed Spanglish, produced Bottle Rocket): Anthony finds refuge for his ennui in the chirpy and inquisitive Uruguayan hotel maid Inez, falling in love with the idea of her (innocent, sweet and naïve) as much as the actual woman.
The same is true of John and Flor. John falls for her generosity, for her un-Deborah-ity, but in truth, he doesn't know her. He knows her as a housekeeper, as a woman who loves his daughter — not on her terms. This isn't his fault — Flor understands this and still requites his adoration — but it's hardly the stuff of longevity. These are the ingredients of a fling, and John and Flor both know that they are too old and even too moral for that. Some desires can never leave the backburner.