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October 11, 2009
Review - " Management "  -  (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Stephen Belber
Starring: Steve Zahn, Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Fred Ward,
Margo Martindale, James Liao

It’s amazing how dramatically a film can change as it progresses. The
opening half of “Management” is wonderful filmmaking, funny and
unconventionally poignant, subtle and relatively simple. The second
half goes for the more overt material and is generally less effective in
its approach to romance and comedy. The result is a good film that
could have been great, and while that means I’m recommending it, it
also means that I was left  feeling somewhat disappointed. Fortunately,
the differences in tone are smoothed over by Jennifer Aniston and
Steve Zahn, who not only have surprising on-screen chemistry but
also show consistency in their performances. They also make their
characters loveable, which is no small task considering how differently
their actions can be interpreted.

Zahn plays a quiet man named Mike, who runs a motel in a small
Arizona town with his parents. His mother (Margo Martindale) is sick,
presumably with cancer, while his military father (Fred Ward) has been
hopelessly withdrawn since returning from a tour of duty. He now
spends most of his time doing crossword puzzles by himself. Basically,
everyone is stuck, and no one seems to be motivated enough to get

Along comes Sue (Aniston), a travelling art saleswoman from
Baltimore. Steve falls in love with her the instant she checks in, and he
wastes no time in trying to get to know her better. He knocks on her
door and offers her a “complimentary” bottle of wine, and in spite of
the severe awkwardness, he sticks around so that they can share a glass. It gets even more awkward the second time
around, when Mike knocks on her door and offers her a bottle of champagne. Sue, it seems, would rather humor Mike than
flatly reject him, probably because it’s incredibly obvious what little experience he has had with women. Indeed, his
expressions reveal not a sex-starved pervert, but a lonely soul who just wants to be loved by someone. Even when the
barriers break and they have sex in the laundry room, there’s the sense that they’re after more than mere physical pleasure.

Of course, that could only work if Sue is just as stuck as Mike. As it turns out, she is: she sells art for a living, but she’d rather
be part of community outreach programs. There’s also the fact that she cares more about helping other people than she
does about herself. As a result, all her previous relationships have failed. So it’s not difficult to imagine why she’s hesitant to
fall in love, despite the fact that her feelings for Mike are growing.

When Sue returns to Baltimore, Mike spends his last dollar on a
plane ticket and follows her. Men like this are usually considered
stalkers, but a stalker Mike is not. He’s just a man in love. What
exactly do I mean by that? He’s not the type to complicate matters of
the heart with matters of the head; because he wants to be with Sue,
practical issues like geography or financial situations or even life
goals aren’t important. Unfortunately, Sue doesn’t see things the
same way, and this plays into the tonal shift I referred to earlier.
Because she wants stability in her life, she moves to Washington
State and gets back together with her ex-boyfriend, a former punk
rocker named Jango (Woody Harrelson), who has since made millions
in the yogurt field. What she ever saw in this man, I have no idea;
he’s manic and hostile, not at all the type a woman like Sue would be
interested in.

Jango is essentially a generic plot device, a convenient way to add conflict. The same can be said for a Chinese restaurant
employee named Al (James Liao), who Mike befriends after following Sue into Washington. Al, essentially, is a goofy
caricature, obvious comedy relief in a story that had previously relied on a subtler, less traditional sense of humor. It’s at this
stage of the film that Mike and Sue’s relationship is put to the ultimate test, and that’s to be expected in conventional
romantic comedies.

And that’s part of the problem. The first half of “Management” is refreshingly unconventional - quiet, introspective, and
undeniably charming, a fascinating look at lonely people in traps of their own creation. The second half, however, disregards
most of this in favor of plot devices I've seen so many times before. The moment Mike reenters Sue’s life in Washington, for
example, goes for the cheap laughs by having Mike skydive from a plane and parachute into her pool. Immediately
afterwards, Jango emerges with a BB gun and opens fire, thinking Mike is a viscous intruder.
In spite of this, a lot of credit has to go to the two lead actors, who
breathe life into their roles and make them relatable. Zahn is
perfect as the needy but attractive Mike, who clings to Sue like an
adorable stray dog in need of affection. Aniston is wonderful as the
lovely but hesitant Sue, a woman who knows what she wants but
lacks the motivation to make it happen. At a time when we’re
inundated with sexy superstars in hopelessly contrived plots, we
have a film about ordinary people falling in love. They redeem the
film, and this is despite the wrong turn the story ends up taking.
Even though “Management” isn't the great work I thought it was
going to be, it’s still a fun and touching film.