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Management (2009) Print E-mail
Monday, 18 May 2009

ImageWhen it comes to finding love in this big crazy world of ours, my aunt Tina says there’s an ass for every seat (known in more polite circles as the “lid for every pot” theory). Management, an indie romance starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn, explores whether this might be true, if not for all of us, then at least for two lost souls whose paths cross at a roadside motel in Kingman, Arizona.  

Jennifer Aniston plays Sue Claussen, a sales representative for a corporate art company (really bad corporate art – the kind with flowers or dogs and horses you find in crappy hotels, airports and bank lobbies).  On a business trip, she checks into a cheap motel and catches the eye of the night manager, Mike (Zahn), who lives at the motel and is the son of the owners (played quite competently by Margo Martindale and Fred Ward).   Totally infatuated at first sight, he digs out a bottle of wine from a box of Christmas decorations and brings it to her room as a welcome gift, “compliments of management”.  He hints at being invited to join her, but is sent away, tail between his legs.  Not one for giving up easily, as we will learn in a big way, he returns the next night with a bottle of champagne, a gift he tells her is customary for all guests who stay two nights.  At this point Mike has begun to take on the aura of a stalker.

These early scenes are so painfully awkward that at times you want to turn away and cover your eyes.  However, Mike and Sue feel so much like real people, as opposed to shiny, witty, one-dimensional Hollywood creations, that you can’t turn away because you’re anxious and eager to see what happens next with them.  

Managment shot

Without the driving force of Mike’s love for Sue, there would be no next at all in this film.  Every time I wondered how there could possibly be any more scenes in a story about these two people, this guy would find a way to try again.  With his lovelorn puppy dog eyes, Mike immediately reminds one of a loyal golden retriever who will go to any length to fetch his stick and bring it back (yes – Jennifer Aniston is the stick in this metaphor – go fetch).  Mike makes a number of grand romantic gestures that in any other film would be the climactic scene.  Sweet or creepy?  You decide.  Do the gestures work in the end?  I won’t say.  Management has that rarest of qualities for a modern American film – unpredictability.  Far be it from me to ruin that for you.

The success of any romance is tied directly to the likeability and acting chops of the lead actors and Aniston and Zahn both turn in great performances.  When I heard they would be playing opposite each other, I was wary of their potential for on-screen chemistry.  She is an A-list movie star and he would normally play the best friend of the guy who gets to be with her.  In the indie world, and in these two roles, they are perfect for each other.

While I’m on the subject, a word about our female lead:  I am not completely sold on big studio, movie star Jen and the choices she makes, but I just love indie-Jen.  She is sublime in movies like The Good Girl, Friends With Money, Office Space and now Management.  She nails the ‘uncomfortable in her skin, searching for something else’ girl better than anyone can.  Indie-Jen is a girl I’ll keep buying tickets to see, so I hope she sticks around.

With Management, writer-director Stephen Belber has given us a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half in the theater.  It is well written, with believable characters whose plights you care about and well acted, both by the two leads and the small supporting cast surrounding them.  I cannot fail to specifically call out Woody Harrelson, who is perfectly cast and brilliantly funny as Jango, the ex-punk rocker, current frozen yogurt tycoon who competes with Mike for Sue’s heart.  If you saw the movie just for his brief role in it, you would not be disappointed.

The film is not perfect.  There are some ridiculous over-the-top movie moments, but it’s hard to quibble when even they seem to fit the character who creates them.  If you have any place at all in your heart for quirky (I am required by movie-reviewing law to use this word to describe an independent film about offbeat characters) indies about people trying to find a little happiness, see Management.  You won’t regret it.  You also won’t fully grasp this unless you do, but in honor of the film, I leave you with a haiku:
Charming Sue and Mike,
Oh, can stalking lead to love?
We are watching you…

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