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Management checks into arrested development cliches

The indie rom-com's subtle notions of Buddhism prove less memorable than its discussions of Jennifer Aniston's derriere



In his indie romantic comedy Management, writer/director Stephen Belber seems to sincerely advocate yoga and Buddhism as means for his man-child protagonist Mike (Steve Zahn) to transcend his arrested development. Despite the film’s subtle spiritual streak, Management will probably be better remembered as our culture’s latest, and possibly last, consideration of Jennifer Aniston’s derriere.

Some celebrities’ body parts become famous in their own right, and such appears to be the case with Jennifer Aniston’s caboose. Her blurry booty graced the cover of Rolling Stone and provided The Break-Up's most memorable moment. Her tush goes unseen in Management, but gets ample attention. Aniston plays Sue Clawson, corporate art saleswoman who spends a few nights at Arizona’s Kingman Hotel, where Mike works for his parents as the night manager. Mike flirts with Sue with skin-crawling incompetence. When he tells her, “You have a great butt,” she tells him that he can touch it, as long as he’ll leave her alone afterward. The subsequent encounter, with Aniston in slacks, bent over as if about to be frisked, proves more awkward than erotic.

The mismatched twosome forms an unlikely connection Sue expects to forget swiftly when she returns to the Maryland home office. Instead, Mike impulsively crosses America, shows up at her workplace, and professes his eternal love. Slouching in shapeless hoodies, Mike has the wardrobe and posture of a giant 6 year old. He also possesses a stalkerish streak the film often plays for comedy, particularly during his Say Anything-inspired serenade to an inappropriate Bad Company song. Sue recognizes a dead end when she sees one, lets Mike down gently, and goes back to her high-strung boyfriend Django (Woody Harrelson), a former punk rocker turned organic yogurt magnate.

Management’s laughs prove half-hearted at best. The movie plays to its strengths (or at least away from its weaknesses) when it avoids humor and considers the loneliness of the characters, including Mike’s father (Fred Ward). Belber reveals an eye for dreary, real-world jobs and middle-American locations. He acknowledges that personal growth requires more than following your heart and other clichés — it also demands work and self-awareness.

The script is rigged so we’ll feel sympathy for the characters — Mike has a sick mom, Sue aspires to help the homeless — but we never feel particularly attached to them as people. Management’s plot takes a detour through a monastery and serves as a kind of public service announcement for the values of Buddhism. Overall, though, Management’s butt-ism leaves a more vivid impression.

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