Jennifer Aniston might be one of the world's hottest actresses — in every sense — but the woman who made her name on television's "Friends" has shown a fondness throughout her career for interesting roles in smaller films.
But, to be honest, her character in the indie romantic comedy "Management" isn't that interesting. Sue is your standard-issue hot corporate climber who dreams of starting her own charitable project to make a difference. Miss Aniston plays her with aplomb, of course, but the actress's job here is simply to be a slightly discontented pretty face.
It's Steve Zahn who turns what could have been a pretty predictable romcom into something surprisingly touching. He plays Mike, the management of the title who helps run his parents' motel in Kingman, Ariz. The easygoing Mike doesn't have much direction in life, spending his days cleaning the rarely used pool and putting the stolen letter "B" back in the motel's sign advertising "Free HBO."
Mike finds a purpose when the gorgeous, put-together Sue checks into the motel one day. She works at Corporate Bliss, a company that sells the kind of unthreatening art that hangs on the motel's walls. He shows up at her room with a "welcome gift" of cheap wine, hoping to be invited to share. He isn't then, but champagne the second night changes her mind. (The hilariously unworldly Mike actually sips the foam off the bottle when the wine spills out on opening.)
The lonely sales rep and the smitten manager have just a single encounter, but Mike isn't one merely to count his blessings. He follows Sue back to her home in Columbia, Md., hoping to convince her that this lovable loser is just what's missing from her quiet life. Sue, though, realizes she's not over her ex-boyfriend Jango (Woody Harrelson), a yogurt mogul who can offer Sue a life Mike can't.
Mr. Zahn and his character are really quite endearing, effortlessly providing the gentle laughs that give the film its energy. Fred Ward is strong and stoic as Mike's father, one of those men who seem to be constantly reflecting on life's lost opportunities while trying hard to forget them. Margo Martindale is almost as memorable as Mike's mother, who urges Mike to take chances his father never did, although she says not-quite-approvingly of Sue, "She's logical … in an emotionally annihilative kind of way."
Playwright-screenwriter Stephen Belber, making his directorial debut, has made a film that's very funny because, despite the slapstick of Mr. Harrelson's character and an ill-advised detour into a monastery, it can be so real. Mike and Sue's single sex scene in the motel's laundry room isn't played for steam, but for connection. Sometimes two people can bond in the unlikeliest of places.
RATING: R (language)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Stephen Belber
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
WEB SITE: managementfilm.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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