Judge Clark Douglas would like to offer you a complimentary bottle of champagne. Mmm, bubbles.
Our review of Management, published July 23rd, 2009, is also available.
Some moments just feel right.
"What would constitute that working for you, exactly?"
Facts of the Case
Mike (Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn) has lived a rather uneventful life. He has rarely been outside the small town in which he was raised, he has had little success in the realm of romance, and he still works for his mom (Margo Martindale, Million Dollar Baby) and dad (Fred Ward, The Player) at their family-owned motel. One day, a traveling businesswoman from Maryland named Sue (Jennifer Aniston, Derailed) checks into the motel for a couple of days. Mike is immensely attracted to her, and seems awestruck just to have a genuinely beautiful woman staying at his second-rate motel. In a somewhat awkward and obtrusive manner, Mike attempts to ingratiate himself with Sue, who responds with a combination of annoyance and cautious curiosity. Just before Sue heads back home, she impulsively decides to have sex with Mike.
For Sue, this was just a one-time diversion. For Mike, it was a life-changing experience. He makes an impulsive decision of his own, purchasing a one-way ticket to Maryland and determining that he will do whatever it takes to turn his brief fling with Sue into something much more profound. Unfortunately, he's going to have to cope with his lack of finances, Sue's on-again-off-again boyfriend (Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers), and the fact that his behavior comes across as more than a little bit like that of a stalker. Is their any hope for our hapless hero?
The romantic comedy genre has suffered immensely in recent years. Though there are always exceptional films in any genre, the overall trends in romantic comedy have been very depressing indeed. Witty wordplay and character-driven humor has been too frequently replaced by insufferably contrived hijinks, but the biggest fundamental flaw in modern rom-coms is undoubtedly the typical lack of romantic spark between the two lead characters. When the two attractive leads are thrust into each others arms at the conclusion, observant viewers are frequently so thoroughly annoyed with them that it's simply hard to care.
That's why I'm always pleased to see something like Management, an admittedly conventional film that feels leaps and bounds better than most of its type simply because of its sweet sincerity. Sure, some of the comic situations are preposterous (a character skydives into a swimming pool and is subsequently shot by an angry man with a BB gun), some of the beats are familiar (look for that oh-so-common moment about 3/4ths of the way through in which the two characters both sadly/angrily try to come to terms with the concept that they will never be together) and the film more or less concludes exactly as you would expect it to. Nonetheless, I was not annoyed by this film. Believe it or not, I was kind of touched by it.
Things begin on a particularly strong note, as Mike displays a potent combination of gentlemanly timidity and burning desire during his scenes with the initially flinty Sue. He knocks on her door bearing a bottle of wine, insisting, "This is something we give all of our guests at the motel." It's clearly a very cheap bottle of wine (the kind you can buy from your local convenience store for five bucks), but that's not going to stop Mike's elaborate presentation. He examines the bottle lovingly. "Ah, this one is a very good year," he declares. He asks her to get the, "sanitary plastic cups," out of the bathroom so he can pour her a glass. After doing so, Mike eyes Sue nervously and suggests, "You know, many of the guests at our motel invite me to have a little taste with them." Later they share one of the more memorable scenes in the film, in which Sue invites Mike to place his hand on her butt. Like so many things in this film, what should be remarkably creepy somehow works thanks to the actors involved and the clever way in which the tone is manipulated.
Zahn and Aniston play off each other quite well…so well in fact that when they're separated the movie sort of sinks into an inoffensive mediocrity (despite the best efforts of Woody Harrelson, whose oddball supporting turn brings additional laughs if not much else to the proceedings). Both actors have now hit 40, and there seems to be a touching yet weary maturity sinking into these roles they've played so many times. Zahn may still be the sweet-natured puppy dog, but what was once the zeal of a youth is slowly transforming into the desperation of a man. Aniston may still be the girl next door, but in this film she displays the guarded cynicism of a woman who has been around the block a time or two. When their inevitable romantic embrace comes, notice the way that they continue they continue to hold each other. The expressions on their faces are not reflective of romantic joy, but rather of relief and deep gratefulness that what they are experiencing is real. It's very affecting stuff, if you allow yourself to put aside the trivialities that occasionally pop up.
The hi-def transfer is surprisingly exceptional. Well, perhaps that the transfer is solid is not so very surprising, but it is surprising to consider that Management offers images genuinely worthy of the hi-def format. First-time director and playwright Stephen Belber moves through his script with a graceful observance, granting cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards a chance to punctuate certain scenes with exceptionally attractive shots of the various locations employed as Mike and Sue travel around the country. The level of detail is quite excellent throughout. Blacks are nice and deep, and flesh tones look warm and accurate. The audio is low-key but effective, offering an appealing blend of coffee-house songs and affectionate scoring courtesy of Mychael Danna and Rob Simonson. It's well-distributed and gets the job done. Extras on the disc include a pleasant commentary with Belber and Zahn, some deleted scenes, a gag reel and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some viewers may find themselves incredibly uncomfortable while watching Management. This certainly isn't the way most men and women fall in love, and much of what happens seems to fall way outside the boundaries of what is appropriate in a modern relationship. I can easily see how those unaffected by the chemistry of Aniston and Zahn might regard the movie as a horror story about a crazed stalker tracking his prey across the country. Then again, when you really think about, more than a few cinematic protagonists would be diagnosed as psychotic if they existed in the real world. In addition, some may find the abrupt shifts in tone distracting and detrimental to the proceedings (particularly in the more scattershot second half).
I liked Management. It's an odd romantic comedy that certainly won't work for everyone, but it struck me at the right angle. I'd suggest giving it a rental, and I'd also suggest keeping an eye on the career of Mr. Belber. I'm curious to see what else he can do. The Blu-ray disc is certainly attractive enough.
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