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Management

a film by Stephen Belber

Management stars Jennifer Aniston as Sue, a lonely traveling salesperson (she sells motel paintings), and Steve Zahn as Mike, an even lonelier motelelier (aka the titular management) who becomes obsessed with his temporary tenant to the point of following her all around the country in loving pursuit. I begin by making particular note of Ms. Aniston and Mr. Zahn because it is the performances of these two talented - and oft overlooked - comedic actors that bring Management out of the lackluster muck its formulaic screenplay and boilerplate direction would otherwise have it wallowing around in.

Management is from first time director Stephen Belber, who most made an indie splash by adapting his own three person play, Tape for Richard Linklater back in 2001. Curiously that play and film takes place entirely inside a motel room. Belber is competent enough here, and his screenplay is sufficiently quirky (by indie standards even) but without the performances of Aniston and Zahn - Woody Harrelson is excellent as well but in a sadly truncated role - his movie would more than likely fall flat on its quirky indie ass.

Storywise, Management is a romantic comedy but from a precariously close-to-stalker kind of way. Zahn's Mike, in his thirties and living in a corner room of the motel he helps run with his over-protective mother and distant gruff father, falls for Aniston's Sue and decides to shuck everything and follow her across the country. At one point he will even parachute into her crazy-eyed punk boyfriend's pool in order to see her. The fact that the aforementioned punk boyfriend (played by the equally aforementioned Harrelson) shoots him and puts him in the hospital is merely a minor setback in his ultimate goal to win Sue over. And by the way, this parachute incident is not even the craziest of lengths Mike will go to.

When someone travels 3000+ miles to see you (after a mere motel room butt-squeeze over cheap champagne and a quick tryst in a motel laundry room) and then parachutes into your insanely jealous boyfriend's pool, most women would just call the police and get a restraining order forcing him to not come within 1000 yards of them, but the way Zahn plays Mike, he is a charming - if not a bit creepily so - incurable romantic, with a childlike innocence. Aniston's Sue is bound to fall for him. Right? Perhaps. My wife claims she would have gone the restraining order route, but considering she puts up with me and my antics, one can only guess that she is lying about that.

No offense to director Belber - his screenplay is well-nuanced if not a bit mundane and pedestrian - but it is indeed Aniston, and especially Zahn, who make this film work, and it is to their credit that it is as charming as it ends up being. [06/08/09]

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