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 zany nor especially funny. It is a
straightforward romantic drama about two people who dance the courtship
dance awkwardly and hesitantly.
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 occasionally.
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 protest.
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
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 the bromance 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. As I see it, that counts for a lot in a phony world.