The Company Men – With a Big Dry Cleaning Bill

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Super Investing

The Company Men, directed by John Wells, has a great cast. The Rottentomatoes Tomatometer shows movie critics gave it the thumbs-up, but only just, giving it a score of 6.4/10. There were 162 reviews, 108 said it was Fresh, and 54 said it was Rotten.

Audiences were even less forgiving, scoring it 55% out of 33,780 ratings, with an

average rating of 3.3/5.

Like several other movies, it was inspired by the global economic meltdown. The setting is within and then outside the corporate world. Unfortunately the storyline never gets to the heart of anything or even anyone. That is the reason critics and audiences didn’t give it stellar ratings. It wasn’t horrible or awfully tedious, but probably means it is headed for an early arrival in the DVD graveyard.

Bobby (Ben Affleck), Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) are highly paid executives at a shipping company. As the recession starts to hurt business, all three become surplus to the company’s needs, and they are all fired in a corporate downsizing. This hurts Bobby and Phil more than it hurts Gene. Their expensive life styles have to stop, but Gene is higher up the corporate ladder and has a bigger bank balance. The three take different paths as they try to rebuild their new lives.

THE COMPANY MEN
THE COMPANY MEN poster

A big problem with the storyline in this film is that all three already have too much. This makes it hard for most of the audience to have much empathy for them. Their houses are big, and in the best suburbs, their cars are top of the range, and they and their families have been over-consuming for years. When they crash and burn, they have only themselves and their self-indulgence to blame. When the audience can’t see themselves in their shoes, it makes it hard for the storyline to work to pull in the audience, to join in their journey of woe.

Giving back the keys to the Porsche generates no sympathy. The audience would probably empathize more with someone locked out of their apartment for non-payment of their rent.

Everything is relative, and while the story might look good on paper, writers need to get audiences to make a connection. There just wasn’t enough time or effort put in before they crashed. Maybe if the story was told from Bobby’s viewpoint, it might have worked.

At the end of the film, only one family is still together, and one other just makes it. That means the film’s message that “family will be there when your job’s not,” doesn’t ring true. The trailer brings the message “In America, we give our lives to our job” and then “This fall, it’s time to take them back.”

That clear message never arrives – maybe it ended up on the cutting room floor. We see that none of them find a permanent solution outside their job. The filmmakers failed the basic need to send a clear message, so I’ll do it for them.

“If we try and stop defining ourselves by our clothes, jobs and pizza toppings, and we end up in an even worse mess, maybe all this cerebral higher level mumbo jumbo stuff isn’t for us, and we should just take the check (as long as it’s big enough) and accept that some days we’re the pigeon, and other days we’re the statue.” It really is that simple.