Management (2009)

'Management' Photo: Steve Zahn and Jennifer Aniston

RB score:  9/10

“Management” is a very interesting detour in the film career of Jennifer Aniston.   Years of playing Rachel on “Friends” allowed her to perfect her sense of comic timing, which translated very well to the big screen as she graduated to become an A-list rom com actress.  Without knowing anything about “Management” I picked up the DVD thinking it had to be a lighthearted comedy with Aniston perhaps playing an office manager.  That is not what this movie is about!  It’s actually better and more original than most romcoms today.  The only reason a single point is detracted from the RB score is simply the complete improbability of the characters.  It is nevertheless hugely enjoyable.

With limited theatrical release you have to wonder what attracted Aniston to the movie.  Although she played the female lead opposite Steve Zahn,  I do believe he had a lot more screen time than she did.  I surmise that Aniston found the project interesting and as in all her movies, seems very grounded and more supportive of the project as a whole instead of vying for attention.

So the plot utilizes Aniston playing a traveling businesswoman (Sue) and Zahn the night manager of a motel (Mike) owned and operated by his aging parents.   The relationship between the two does not play out among the typical formulaic paths.   I can’t think of another movie in which the pick up line had to do with a “butt touch” and it’s even more impressive that it works. In fact, with Mike pursuing Sue cross country, the challenge for Zahn was how to play this character without him being a creepy stalker.  The answer was to play Mike with an innocent sweetness that stopped just brilliantly short of having his mental capacity called into question, and to his credit, Zahn pulls it off and lands on the side of sweet, yet not sweetly stupid.  The result is a likeable character that does not actually exist in the real world but which makes the entire movie work from beginning to end.   Aniston’s Sue is a corporate drone with a secret soft exterior, which also does not really exist outside of film.  How then does this movie work, you wonder?  Good performances and an intelligent, if offbeat, script.  One critic had stated something to the effect that Management did not aspire to be art house material.  Not sure what he meant by that but it is definitely artistic as well as entertaining.  It’s a three act play with cinematography and judicious use of a well suited musical score.

The second act is where a lot of character development comes in.  You have the strange ex-boyfriend played to perfection by Woody Harrelson, the instant best friend Al (James Liao) Mike meets while trying to find Sue, and Mike’s  sick mother (Margo Martindale) and morose father (Fred Ward), all of whom are on a journey of their own.  The supporting players are more than adept; they play up the movie’s strengths.   Incidentally, the friendship between Mike and Al is also sweet and not believable.   Another critic mentioned that for a romantic comedy, there are not a lot of belly laughs in this movie.  That is correct, there are not, although there are comedic moments.  This is where we get to the heart of what makes this movie exceptional.  It isn’t really a romantic comedy, although it is indeed romantic.  That’s why critics looking only at the romcom aspect think the movie falls short.  So what’s left?  A moving study of not romantic relationships nor friendships but that of life’s most basic relationship, parent/child.  This exploration is delivered with subtlety at times, humor at times, and touching impact at others.  But make no mistake, that is what the movie is about.

Don’t believe me?  The movie opens and ends on that note.

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