If you see that a film's cast is toplined by Steve Zahn and Jennifer
Aniston, you're going to assume it is a comedy of some kind, possibly a zany
one, but Management is neither funny nor zany. It is a straightforward
romantic drama about two people who dance the courtship dance awkwardly and
Zahn plays a lonely guy who is working and living in his parents' mop-n-pop
motel in Arizona. He seems to be a nobody headed nowhere. He's handsome enough
and there's nothing wrong with his brain, but he's in a place which is not
unpleasant and from which he is not ambitious enough to escape. He's not lazy
or incompetent, but he has no special dreams, and doesn't really have any
strong desire to do something specific, so he's treading water, as we all do
Aniston plays a corporate shill. She travels around the country selling
crappy mass-produced art to hotels, motels, and medical offices, and she
realizes this is trivial work, but she's dedicated to her job and seems to do
it well. She also seems to have a great heart, because she's really committed
to helping the homeless during her time off. Yet there is something about her
that is distant, wary and possibly very lonely. She isn't willing to let
anyone get close.
Until Zahn comes along.
When Aniston wanders into the Arizona motel, Zahn is immediately interested
and comes up with the most obvious come-on possible. (The ol' "free bottle of
wine delivered to your room in the evening" trick.) Aniston can see that it is
a come-on and tries to usher him away, but within a minute or so she can see
that he is as sweet and harmless as a lost puppy, so she softens and drops her
guard just a little . We can appreciate her reaction because we can see in
Zahn the same likeable, harmless, guileless qualities she can see. She also
appreciates the fact that when she asks him to leave, he moves on without a
She's there for a two-night stand. Zahn is back the second evening with a
bottle of champagne and this time Aniston invites him to have a sip and talk a
bit. She realizes that he can be trusted and that he likes her butt, so she
volunteers to fulfill his fantasy. She invites him to touch her butt, on the
condition that he leave immediately afterward. She is confident that he will
actually hold up his end of the deal. He thinks the deal sounds pretty good,
so he touches her
bottom respectfully, and leaves when he's asked to.
The next day Aniston checks out and talks to him for a while. He asks for
her phone number and she says no. He's confused by her mood swings, but he
shrugs the rejection off and gets back to work. She sits in her car for a while,
ponders the situation, comes back and seduces him in the laundry room. Then
she leaves - without ever leaving that phone number. Zahn is understandably
befuddled by her strange mixture of green lights and red, but he eventually decides
to "go for it," and seeks her out at her corporate HQ in Maryland. She
continues to run hot-and-cold on him, scolding him and encouraging him in
turn. She lets him stay a day, then sends him back to Arizona and refuses to
answer any of his phone calls or letters.
And all of that is only the set-up! At that point the real film has
yet to begin.
Zahn and Aniston play their roles with complete conviction and credibility,
and this film has so many positive elements that I wanted to like it
wholeheartedly. And I did for a while, and was completely engrossed in the
characters and situations through all the developments described above.
Unfortunately, the script ran into some real problems in the middle act.
Aniston ended up moving to Washington state and getting married to her ex-boyfriend, a former punk rocker
turned corporate magnate, as played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson's character
has no place at all in the movie. The elements that made the first act work so
well were simplicity and credibility. Zahn's and Aniston's characters were
complicated and genuine, and their actions were consistently believable.
Harrelson, on the other hand, turned in a bizarre, creepy and over-the-top
turn which seemed to be from another movie, presumably the wacky surreal
comedy he probably expected to be in when he signed up for a film starring
The script also gave Zahn a bromance sub-plot with a character much like
himself in Washington state, a guy too smart to be working and living in his parent's mom-n-pop
restaurant. The friend was a good character, a funny and likeable stoner, and
he played an important role in the film's exposition because Zahn needed to
look into a mirror.
Unfortunately, the script completely abandons the friend when his expository
role has been fulfilled and Zahn has moved back to Arizona. This is
frustrating because it happens just as we are beginning to like the friend and
the comic relief he provides, and
to feel that their friendship is one of the best things in the film.
The shift of locales occurs without explanation. Zahn simply finds himself
back in Arizona, busying himself at his parents' motel. That development makes
sense for Zahn's character, who finally decides to move on from the hopeless
task of stalking a woman married to a billionaire, but the abrupt transition
destroys the friendship sub-plot. We see no farewell between the two friends,
and there is no further communication between them. The friend is simply dropped from the plot, with no explanation. The author
owed us some kind of closure, however brief, on that relationship.
So it's not a perfect film, or a very commercial one, or even one that
lives up to its promising first act, but it is an honest and mostly genuine
film, and as I see it, that counts for a lot in a phony world.
Box office: a million dollars on a maximum of 212 screens. Aniston is an
unusual case. Although most people say she's appealing and talented, she has
no luck at the box office or with her personal romantic life. She's like the
female George Clooney. (And that parallel is solidified by the fact that they
both seem to have mated for life with Brad Pitt.)
RT: 46% positive
Ebert: 3 stars
Berardinelli: 2 stars. I read his review after writing everything above and
realized that his review is not much different from mine, although he reaches
a different conclusion. He saw the same positives and negatives that I saw,
but he assigned a significantly heavier weight to the screenwriting mistakes
in the middle of the film. He felt the film's weaknesses dragged it down below
the minimum level necessary for a recommendation, while I felt the film was
still worthwhile in spite of the weaknesses.
Nudity: absolutely none, but
this awkward scene between Aniston and Zahn is quite memorable and
touching, albeit in an odd way. Zahn touches Aniston's butt. In HD! It's such
a nice scene that if Aniston had been courageous enough to pull her pants
down, it would have easily won the "nude scene of the year" ballot, even with
limited and brief nudity.