Management (United States, 2008)

May 13, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Management Poster

Since the demise of Friends, Jennifer Aniston has been desperately striving to find her motion picture niche. Despite having started her fifth decade of life (in an industry that is not kind to actresses over 40), she remains a bankable name, even though her big-screen career has been less than stellar. Although Aniston obtained her indie credentials in The Good Girl, she is still (and likely always will be) best known as one of the Friends ensemble. That's the double-edged curse/reward of being part of a television phenomenon. At any rate, the Aniston we see in Management is more the Friends version than the The Good Girl one. This film isn't seeking art house distribution - it wants to play in multiplexes, and debuting director Stephen Belber makes this apparent from the outset.

Management is a standard-order romantic comedy with many of the expected twists and complications. It suffers from the flaw of not giving the lead characters enough time together. To me, one of the greatest pleasures of any rom-com is watching the characters fall in love, and vicariously experiencing the emotions with them. Films that clog the storyline with extraneous subplots and unnecessary secondary characters rob the audience and do themselves a great disservice. That's pretty much what happens here and, in addition to this sin, Belber does some really strange stuff toward the end that removes one of the leads from the storyline for a protracted period of time. This is the classic case of a film offering false hope during a reasonably decent first half before crashing and burning as it sputters toward the climax.

The film opens in the small town of Kingman, Arizona, population 27,000. Visiting businesswoman Sue (Aniston) stops at a roadside motel for two nights while she's in town making a presentation. The hotel's night manager, Mike (Zahn), is instantly smitten with her. He knocks on her door and makes presents of wine the on first night and champagne on the second night. They connect, but what to Sue is a casual encounter means a lot more to Mike. Before she hops on her plane to Maryland, Sue invites Mike for a spin cycle in the wash room. Now hopelessly in Sue's thrall, Mike goes into full stalker mode, purchasing a one-way ticket to the East Coast and showing up unannounced and uninvited at Sue's place of work.

One might not think a creepy stalker movie would work well as a romantic comedy, but Mike is obviously harmless and Sue brings his increased attention on herself by first inviting him to "touch her butt," then compounding the error by having sex with him. One can forgive the guy for getting the wrong idea. Aniston and Zahn have an easy, unforced chemistry. Their scenes together - on those occasions when the movie allows them to interact without the various subplots and extraneous secondary characters getting in the way - are effective.

One can see how this film could have worked had Belber not been determined to pollute the story with Woody Harrelson as an ex-punk rocker (the actor is miscast; the character is vile), a parachuting expedition, and a side trip to a Buddhist monastery. Aniston is absent for about 20 minutes while the film tries and fails to tread water as it follows Zahn on his search for self. I would never claim that the potential exists within the basic framework of Management for a great romantic comedy, but a good one wasn't out of the question. Unfortunately, poor scriptwriting decisions and a failure to advance the romance in a gradual, credible fashion doom whatever chances this could have had to enrapture audiences.

Management (United States, 2008)

Director: Stephen Belber
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Margon Martindale, Fred Ward, James Liao, Woody Harrelson
Screenplay: Stephen Belber
Cinematography: Eric Alan Edwards
Music: Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen
U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2009-05-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1