How can you not like a film that has lines like "You can touch my butt but then you gotta go"? And screenwriter Stephen Belber's first film as director, Management, is a very likable film in its own modest way. But modesty and low expectations are hard notes to sustain for feature length without giving in to quirkier impulses, and Management quickly abandons its singular unpretentiousness for three-ring goofiness. But with two charming performances by Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn to buoy the modulations, Management extends beyond the pale, like the good ol' hat trick, taking an illogical premise to its logical extreme.
Zahn is lonely guy named Mike, pushing middle age in a dead-end job working for his parents at a roadside motel in the Arizona dessert. Zahn's puppy dog eyes are reminiscent of Robert Morse -- he is cute and cuddly but he could also be a pervert or a serial killer. His Norman Bates pedigree is certainly on display when he sets his sights on uptight sales representative Sue (Aniston), staying the night at the motel for her business, a company specializing in corporate art called Corporate Bliss. When Sue gazes at Mike and Mike gazes at Sue, you know it is a match made in heaven, although Mike still could be Ted Bundy. Article continues below
Even more so when Sue leaves to return to her home in Maryland and Mike, the nice stalker, drops everything to follow her home. Mike is crushed when Sue half-heartedly gives him the cold shoulder and reveals she has a boyfriend -- a screwball ex-punk rocker named Jango (Woody Harrelson) who is now a rich yogurt potentate. Mike could care less. With his puppy dog eyes more dogged then ever, he abandons it all to follow her to Jango's lair. "I'm just going to go for it," he says.
In Management, Mike and Sue meet cute and stay cute even when the film itself veers away from all that dimpled marzipan. Belber, for the first half-hour of the film, proceeds quietly and wins points on charm and achieves a comfort zone with Mike and Sue, Zahn and Aniston cashing in insurance markers to keep the audience attached to these underwritten characters. Sue could have been played rigid and cold, while Mike could have easily veered into psychotic creepiness. Instead, you just look at them and sigh.
But then Belber goes for the cheap laughs. When Harrelson appears as a comic book screwball, he gets the big laughs, but the film suffers. Quickly Mike devolves into a clownish cartoon from an illustrated children's book as he performs one nutty stunt after another -- parachuting into Jango's swimming pool, serenading Sue by singing a Bad Company tune, becoming a Buddhist monk. Belber reels in the loose ends for the finish, but the labored wackiness depletes the tone Belber delicately sets at the film's beginning.
It is nice to see Mike and Sue end up with the expected conclusion but with all the detours and tarradiddles it takes to get there, it's a tribute to the film's acting that anyone in the audience still cares. Like Jerry Seinfeld's maximum strength painkiller joke, Mangement is maximum strength cute; it takes cuteness to the edge of killing you and then backs off a couple of notches.