At the end of "The Company Men" I wanted to walk into the screen, get down on bended knee and beg for a job. It is a quietly powerful and well made movie that resonated with many recognized truths from the last decade of my own life. At times it prompted painful memories that almost brought tears, but in the end I smiled because I felt, "Yes, that's where I am now." I could smell, taste and feel the conclusion, though for me in reality it has not happened yet.
While it is set in a big Boston maritime corporation and has to do with the downsizing that came after the Wall Street crash, and almost uniformly focuses on the white collar class (which is why some will hate it), at heart its about losing the (good) life well known, the comforts taken for granted, and finding a way to get through it and to the other side, where faith, hope and determination pay off. I was not literally fired from my job. But my husband's crimes, and the aftermath, caused me to be effectively fired from the life I'd known and built and, yes, took for granted. Nothing was ever the same again, and I had the choice of living in denial or adapting. Fortunately, though painfully, I adapted. I'm still adapting. The fallout hasn't stopped for me or my son, though now we understand it and cope.
In the case of this film, I related both to the Ben Affleck character, "Bobby Walker," the husband/breadwinner/seeming success, who starts out in deep denial, and Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays "Maggie Walker," his understanding and wise wife who brings reality and solutions to the table. Fortunately I did not relate to the Chris Cooper character, "Phil Woodward," who could not adapt to his new reality, though I fully and achingly understand his torment.
On the home front, the script is pitch perfect in capturing those moments when the bills no longer can be paid, the absurd phone conversations with collection agencies, the humiliation of knowing its not possible to keep the old lifestyle, to fool the friends and neighbors, the lengths and depths of cost-cutting, and having to eat big slices of humble pie. When Maggie points out to Bobby that they not only can't afford their current mortgage but won't be able to buy a smaller home because they can't quality for a new mortgage, I was like, "Hello, how do you do?" My predicament exactly.
On the job front, its one humiliating rejection after another--and yet, and yet, the job seeker has to remain upbeat, unrelenting, calm, well turned out, and able to smile through any number of professional insults. I've reached the point where I consider it a success if I get a reply thats a rejection, because most of the applications I submit go into the black hole. There's no reply, initially or to follow ups. Nothing. As in true life, the job applicants don't always smile. Sometimes they leave nasty messages for Human Resources.
I was right there with him when Bobby tells Maggie he feels like a loser because he can't still provide for his family as before, because no one wants to hire him, because he just can't seem to fit in. Fighting those feelings is the hardest part of survival, because they are what shut you down. You feel like a fraud because you may look like everyone else but inside you know you lost your place in line.
On another front, while the fired employees scramble for survival, the film vividly shows the cold demeanor of the corporate environment, particularly the board room, where heroes are hard to come by. As a former boss, I related to that, too. I mean at Nathans we were always downsizing. To open each day chewed up me, the employees and ultimately the business itself.
SPOILER ALERT: The end is about rising from the ashes, as it should be. Why work so hard to push through if there's not the hope of finding resurrection? I loved that it was about a start-up. What I'd give to find a start up--and in just about any industry--that may be lean on early resources but strong on skill and purpose. I don't need luxury and amenities, but I do need a paycheck and real benefits. Those are way way more important than leather upholstery, curtains and a desk made of polished wood. Its not clear whether Bobby's new office even has heat. That's okay. He got back in the game.
Hooray for "The Company Men," written and directed by John Wells, who has a long list of credits as a producer, though this may be his first directing gig. I know January is typically a dumping ground for Hollywood's waste, but every now and then a solid Indie slips into the mix, and that's what's happened here. Solid, moving, rewarding. Even if you are fortunate to be employed you'll want to see this film. And if you are a Kevin Costner fan, then there's another good reason.