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Friday, May 15, 2009

Jennifer Aniston has a winner with 'Management'

Elizabeth Weitzmen - May 15th, 2009

Romantic comedy about an awkward loner who falls for a successful businesswoman. With Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn. Director: Stephen Belber (1:33). R: Language. At area theaters.

Your first thought upon watching "Management" will undoubtedly be, "Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn? Who thought that would be a good match?" So it's to everyone's credit that by the time the movie is over, you'll wonder why they were never paired together before. In fact, everything about Stephen Belber's deceptively low-key directorial debut feels designed to throw us off. 

The comic touches are revealed gradually, the plot meanders, the leads keep misconnecting. But if there's a point to be made here, it's that persistence pays off, whether you're onscreen or in the audience. Zahn's disheveled Mike falls for Aniston's tightly wound Sue immediately, as she's checking in to the Arizona motel his parents (Margo Martindale and Fred Ward) own. 

Barging into her room under the pretext of offering a complimentary bottle of wine, Mike initially comes off as a weirdo — or worse. While she eventually gives in to his advances, partly out of loneliness and partly out of pity, Sue writes off their encounter immediately. So she is extremely surprised when he shows up at her Maryland office a few days later, ready to spend the rest of his life with her.

Not only is Sue not in the market for a stalker, she's also involved with Jango (Woody Harrelson), a wild-eyed millionaire who could eat a naive motel manager for breakfast. But Mike, whose creepiness turns out to be another quality altogether, simply won't give up. A lot of factors had to come together to turn this modest indie into something memorable. 

Most important, Aniston and Zahn believe in the material, and as it unfolds, we can see why. Empathy does evade Belber in the very end, with an unkind exchange that sells out Aniston's character to a surprising degree.

But for the most part, his script has just enough sweet-natured quirkiness to keep us interested, both in what he has already made, and what he might be working on next.


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