Directed by Paul Weitz. US. 2004.


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Paul Weitz’s debut solo effort away from his brother Chris (although he co-wrote the script) - which brought us American Pie and About a Boy – is an understated film of care and substance over style and explicit content.  The story is about Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) who as a 51 year-old head of advertising is demoted following an amalgamation of two companies and finds himself replaced by 26 year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) who is recently divorced and begins dating his university bound daughter Alex, played by Scarlett Johansson, unbeknown to him.

Weitz cleverly does not try to heighten the tension between the two but carefully indicates how closely linked to each other the pair of men are; both suffer arm injuries through public embarrassment and it is to the opposite arm of each other, they become the mirror image of each other.  Both sign life-changing documents at the same time, but while the idea of showing the similarities is natural we also see what is missing – Carter jogs on his treadmill indoors alone in his new apartment, juxtaposed with Dan returning to a house full of women.  The idea of surrogacy is never far from this film and the relationship between Carter and Alex is actually her falling for someone the equal of her father and in a way replacing him.  (‘My Dad left when I was four so I have no memory of him.’)

The relationship of the men is handled effortlessly while the romantic relationship is a little bit clumsily which is not the fault of the actors who deal with comedy expertly, but the fault of the outline of the film as we know this relationship will not end happily and is continually referred to as experimentation.  In spite of this, expectations of the audience are tested in that we hope for a nice conclusion although the extended length of the film is maybe due to the film not knowing how to end the film.  

Nevertheless, the director also does well, lighting the film in warm, spring colours that give New York a real brightness from interior design to the well-suited gentlemen.  There is no difference between New York the city and New York the suburb; both are the same because of the characters who inhabit them.  Helped by two brilliant male performances; Quaid bringing his brand of rugged machismo to the father-figure role and Grace with all his sitcom charm that translates to the screen well with his nervousness and energy.

The film has a lightness of touch that cannot fail to bring a smile to your face although it does unfortunately not provide the happy ending we would have liked, is that a criticism of us or the film-makers.

Jamie Garwood
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