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Stars Give Special Quality to Management

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Stars Give Special Quality to <i>Management</i>

DVD Release Date:  September 29, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 15, 2009
Rating:  R (for language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  93 min.
Director:  Stephen Belber
Actors:  Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Fred Ward, Margo Martindale, James Hiroyuki Liao, Woody Harrelson

One slight premise plus one exceptional cast equals one enjoyable movie.

That's the equation for Management, a new film from writer/director Stephen Belber, known for his TV work in series such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Rescue Me—decent programs, but not the kind of credentials that might make one want to shell out for a night at the movies.

But Management is a great example of the power of casting. By giving Steve Zahn the starring role alongside Jennifer Aniston, we become witness to an unexpected, winning chemistry, thanks in large part to the impressive performances from the lead actors and stellar supporting work.

Zahn, so memorable as an emaciated prisoner in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn and the philandering husband in Sunshine Cleaning, brings an awkward likeability to the character of Mike, night manager of the family-run Kingman Motor Inn in Arizona.

His gruff father (Fred Ward) and ailing mother (the wonderful character actress Margo Martindale) tend the books and work the front desk, enlisting their son's help in addressing customer complaints. When Sue (Jennifer Aniston), a corporate art saleswoman, checks into the motel, Mike is immediately smitten by her. He brings her a bottle of wine—a standard first-night gift, he tells her—but Sue rightly suspects that Mike has a romantic interest in her. That suspicion is confirmed when Mike arrives the next day with a bottle of champagne, a gift, Mike says, for those who stay a second night.

Sue demands to know Mike's intentions—is he looking for sex?—and permits him a certain degree of intimacy, hoping the brief thrill will be enough to get rid of him. No such luck. Mike wants something more, and so, it turns out, does Sue, who surprises Mike later with a sexual tryst in the motel's laundry room.

When Sue's job takes her away from Mike, he is left desperate and confused by the strange turn of events in his life. Working up his courage after a liquor-fueled night of contemplation, he buys a one-way plane ticket and chases Sue to her hometown in Maryland, where he escorts her to soccer practice and accompanies her on humanitarian and personal betterment adventures—among them handing out Burger King vouchers to the homeless and attending yoga classes.

One of the strengths of Management is its ambivalence about this charity work, and the various causes to which Sue has committed herself. The film isn't afraid to poke fun at the notion of fast-food "veggie burgers" or at Sue's father, who abandoned his family to pursue religious enlightenment. But for the most part, it embraces Sue's efforts to better herself and everyone around her. Her great hope—to open a soup kitchen and offer a "midnight basketball" program—is suggested without any ironic intent.

Mike, who couldn't represent a bigger contrast to Sue's professional ambitions, recognizes that Sue is using her do-goodism as a substitute for the missing element of love and companionship in her life. He wants to take care of her, but to the extent that she has any romantic longings, they're focused on a disturbed ex-boyfriend (Woody Harrelson) who's obviously not right for her.

Mike continues to pursue Sue with the help of Al (James Hiroyuki Liao, in a breakout performance), a fellow loser who empathizes with Mike's plight. Al is more interested in getting stoned than he is in his restaurant job, but he sticks close to Mike. Their friendship is one of the more affecting relationships in the film.

Each character in Management is troubled, and each has a need—friendship, romance and rest, just to name a few. As with the big indie hit Juno, the characters' choices are sometimes sinful, and the consequences of those choices are treated in too lighthearted a manner, when a more gloomy outcome easily could be imagined.

But Management is a romantic comedy, not a serious drama. We want Mike to win Sue, even when it seems she's gone too far with someone else in pursuit of her own faulty ideas of a strong, secure relationship. Somehow, we know this slight story will bring these two souls together.

That might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but in a year of movies that have rarely risen to the level of mediocre, the pleasures of Management make it a standout choice among other theatrical offerings.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@verizon.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Smoking/Drinking:  Frequent smoking; Mike vows to quit cigarettes more than once; Mike brings wine and champagne to Sue's room, and they taste it together; Mike sips liquor through a straw; while drunk, Mike works up his courage to buy a plane ticket across country to track down Sue; drinking at a bar.
  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; occasional foul language, including the "f" word; the word "pawn" is misunderstood as "porn"; a man tells another man that a rock guitarist likely "made love to your mother"; two men serenade a woman with Bad Company's song, "Feel Like Makin' Love."
  • Sex/Nudity:  Suggestive language about activities among the motel guests; Mike tells Sue she has "a nice butt," and she allows Mike to touch it; kissing; characters undress each other and have sex, which is not shown; a woman receives a massage from her boyfriend; suggestive dancing.
  • Violence:  A man shoots another man with a BB gun.
  • Religion:  Sue says her father left to live in an ashram; Mike becomes a Buddhist monk, but is asked to leave the monastery because he is too attached to the world.