Management: Boy Meets Girl, Feels Butt

The tried-and-true love story formula (boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl) has actually held up even in this post-modern, deconstructive age, when you think about it. Really, the main variation is in the final part (boy fails to regain girl), and that was old when Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juilet”.

It’s a broad outline.

Storytellers, then, are forced to be creative within those parameters. A lot of fun can be had with the “boy meets girl” and “boy gets girl” parts, and a lot of dramatic tension can be had with the losing and regaining (or not) part.

Jennifer Aniston’s new romantic-comedy (she exec. produces as well as stars) has a lot of fun with the meeting, getting and regaining process, and a nice bit of drama with the losing. It’s really a very solid, good romcom in a world where that’s actually pretty rare. Yet the buzz is already highly negative.

I sort-of think that a lot of negativity surrounding Aniston–and there always seems to be a ton of it–must either come from her success on “Friends” or her relationship with Brad Pitt. Because I don’t see how it could come from her performances. Not that you might not dislike them, but there seems to be positive glee everytime she’s in a low-budget movie.

I’m not intimate with her work and admittedly–like most actresses–she’s often a prop. I think she’s found a way to remedy that by producing her own movies and giving herself meatier roles. Smart and, at least in this case, a very good showcase for her talents.

The premise of Management is a strange one: Steve Zahn–also often under-rated–plays Mike, who works in his parents’ motel in Kingman, Arizona. They’re kind of dull, and he’s kind of dull, too. One day, in walks Sue (Jennifer Aniston)–and her great ass. It’s love at first sight, from behind.

Mike is immediately taken with her, and likes what he sees from the front, too, and contrives an excuse to visit her in her room. As an actor, Zahn’s really to be commended here, because–for all Mike’s listlessness in life–he comes across as genuinely taken by Aniston’s character, and sweet rather than stalker-like. He’s a guy who’s never felt inspired enough to do anything, and as we quickly see, Sue becomes that inspiration.

Sue is a tougher nut to crack. She’s cold, a little prickly, even bad with people, but seeing through Mike’s ruse, she asks what would make him feel like his gambit was successful. She agrees at that point to let him lay a hand on her butt.

Strange, right? Yet, by the end of the movie, we see that it’s perfectly in character for Sue, who manages her dysfunction at one level with a kind of over-the-top altruism. We also see that Mike’s somewhat over-the-top, Quixotic pursuit of her is in line with his previously dormant passionate nature.

So, wow. Here we have a romantic-comedy with carefully drawn characters conflicting over expectations of each other and life, without anyone seeming like a victim. That’s pretty rare these days and I’d like to see a lot more of this.

Occasionally, the move delves deeply into quirkiness. Woody Harrelson plays Jango, a former punk/yogurt mogul/vicious dog trainer, who offers Sue a security–and an opportunity–Mike can’t. “Prison Break”’s James Hiroyuki Liao plays Al, the fast-talking son of Chinese Restaurant owners who immediately befriends Mike in his time of need.

These two offer more quirkiness than, say, Mike’s parents. His father Jerry (Fred Ward) is a semi-shell-shocked war vet, while his mother Trish (Margo Martindale) is terminally ill. This movie alternates between almost wacky stunts, like skydiving into a swimming pool, and dramatic scenes, like deathbed conversations.

Screenplay author and first time director Steven Belber makes it all work by never letting the quirkiness get cartoonish.

It won’t get much of a run, and Aniston won’t get much praise for her restrained, subtle performance as a cold woman who slowly begins to melt, to say nothing of Steve Zahn, who didn’t even get much praise for his excellent work in the under-rated Rescue Dawn. But if they were smart about it, this was a no more than $15-20M work that will easily clear that and more when international box office and video/cable rights are figured.

The Boy declared it “good” and was quite pleased with the story. I declare it “good”, too. Since both Aniston and Zahn have three movies coming out this year, I imagine this will get swept under the rug–but it shouldn’t be.

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