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November 2009 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Management
cast: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson, Fred Ward, and Margo Martindale

writer and director: Stephen Belber

90 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
Mike (Steve Zahn) is night manager for the Kingsman Motor Inn (plus pool), in Arizona, the family business run by his parents. His first view of decorative art saleswoman Sue (Jennifer Aniston), when she checks in for two nights, is of her attractive rear. Mike's invented excuses to join her in her room - a free bottle of cheap rosé the first night, a complimentary bottle of champagne the next - are obvious to anyone with half a brain. When an incredulous Sue confronts him and he admits that his clumsy chat-up lines rarely work, she grants him an extraordinary favour - he can 'touch her butt' if he leaves immediately afterwards.

Casting caution (and his savings) to the winds, a smitten, impulsive Mike follows Sue back to Maryland. Once again, Sue's first instinct is to send him packing, her second to let him stay - probably because she has little in her life except work and after-hours charitable activities helping the homeless. As they get to know one another better, Mike comes to believe he can make her happy. But the course of true love never did run smooth. Mike's mother (Margo Martindale) is dying, and his father (Fred Ward) is at a loss as to what to do next with the Inn. Then Sue decides to get back together with her old boyfriend Jango (Woody Harrelson). Jango is a trigger-happy, violent, jealous ex-punk who trains dangerous dogs. He's also an organic yoghurt millionaire. Can Mike win back the girl in the face of such stiff competition? Luckily, his new friend from the Chinese restaurant, Al (James Hiroyuki Liao), is willing to help him try...

Writer and director Stephen Belber walks a fine line at times. From the deleted scenes, it is evident that Management was originally to have been a much coarser film - thank heavens he reined himself in! On the face of it, a film about a stalker pursuing a girl shouldn't work. But Steve Zahn brings a sweetness and harmlessness to the role of Mike that erases any uneasiness the viewer might have, and Jennifer Aniston's Sue is always in control and is the one to initiate any physical contact. The script is nicely written, encompassing comedy - the scene when Mike skydives into Jango's pool - and emotional truth - the scene where Sue hurts Mike so badly he reacts for the first time with real anger. It's on dodgy ground, however, when it makes Sue send Mike such outrageously mixed messages all the time - her decision to seduce him in the laundry room left me unconvinced.

I've never seen Aniston (Along Came Polly, Bruce Almighty, The Good Girl) quite so stone-faced before, conveying emotion largely with her eyes, but it's a pitch-perfect performance for a tightly clamped down character that Mike's mother describes as: "logical... in an emotionally annihilated kind of way." Zahn (Sahara, Employee Of The Month) has the difficult task of making Mike seem dogged, kind, and loyal rather than selfish and blindly obsessive, and he achieves it effortlessly, also conveying convincingly a wide range of emotions. And Margo Martindale (The Savages), and Fred Ward (Henry And June, Tremors) give nicely understated performances as his parents. As for the rest, James Hiroyuki Liao is hilarious as Al, but Woody Harrelson (No Country For Old Men, The People vs. Larry Flint) is too OTT, playing the psychotic Jango so much for laughs I found it impossible to believe that his character and someone like Sue might have formed any kind of relationship at all.

DVD extras: a self-deprecating audio commentary by first time director Belber, and Steve Zahn, a gag reel and bloopers, some deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.
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