51 year-old ad salesman Dan (Quaid) is surprised to find himself replaced by 26 year-old Carter (Grace) when his magazine is bought by a new firm. Carter's equally surprised by his unhappiness with success and seeks to learn from Dan whilesecretly dating Dan's daughter (Johansson).
You've seen the trailer right? Young guy becomes the boss of a man twice his age, falls for his daughter, rom-com hijinks ensue? Yeah, that's not this film. Barely even close. The first solo effort from Paul Weitz, one half of the American Pie-making Weitz brothers, isn't really a film about romance at all. It's a business and self-help manual played for laughs. It's Jerry Maguire for twentysomethings and fiftysomethings.
Weitz picks as his protagonists two people from one of the least appealing subgroups of humanity: the advertising salesman. Dan (Quaid) is the old school, tell-it-like-it-is veteran who wants people to buy his product because they think it's good; Carter (Grace) is the barely out of college corporate drone, who thinks everything's 'awesome' and that people will buy anything if it's packaged properly. That these men are both identifiable and likeable is testament to both Weitz's witty, observant writing (Carter babbles brand speak but then hates himself for it) and the subtly excellent performances of Quaid and Grace, the latter a gawky Hanksian joy.
Nestled in Weitz's sharp comedy is a message that stretches beyond mere office politics to the feelings of displacement of the middle aged in a young world and the confusion of the kids taking their place without, as Carter puts it, any idea what they're doing. The age confusion extends to their home lives, where Dan is financially stretched with a baby on the way, while the younger Carter is a weary divorcee with plenty of money but nothing to spend it on but trophy cars and trendy apartments. The addition of Scarlett Johansson is merely a footnote in the two men's relationship, flitting in romantically and then highlighting her own lack of imprtance in one of the most biting scenes. This is far more a story of boy becoming man than boy meeting girl. The movie's most surprising element is its stance against corporate mentality. That it was made by New Line, a subsidiary of Time Warner, the largest media conglomerate in the world, makes it ironic that the pay-off moment features a man dismissing corporate thinking as bullshit rather than the guy getting the girl. It may not stir the hearts of romantics but it'll have anyone who works for The Man standing on their seats.
Not quite the equal of Jerry Maguire or The Apartment (Weitz's main influences), this nevertheless provides a take on the modern male life that's clever, original and terrifically witty.