On television and in the movies, Jennifer Aniston excels at portraying the sort of supremely likeable, quirky yet down to earth, strong yet sympathetic, pretty but not glamorous single girl looking for love, who continuously becomes tangled in the kind of romantic foibles that only occur in movies and on television. She has made a career of it. With her easy smile and sky blue eyes she seems to perfectly blend the chumminess of a Sandra Bullock standard with the openhearted sophistication of a Carrie Bradshaw. She might as well have romantic comedy stamped on her incredibly smooth, glowing forehead.
Despite her predisposition for breezy chick-flicks, Aniston occasionally (and quite consciously) strives for something different, perhaps, one could argue, something better. Whether it be a dark thriller like Derailed or an ensemble drama like Rumor Has It, Aniston clearly aspires to leave a film legacy greater than interchangeable Rachel Green-Goes-To-The-Movies movies, and a greater personal legacy than being the tabloid rival of Angelina Jolie.
In the case of Management, where Aniston serves as executive producer as well, she lends her celebrity to a bold departure from the mainstream Hollywood fare she is accustomed to. Even 2002’s The Good Girl, a comparably raw and diverse venture, felt more polished than the overtly independent Management, a film about the all-conquering power of love at first sight.
However, what truly separates Management from your typical emotional journey driven indie is the – for lack of a better term – utter chaos of it. Certain elements of the film seem curiously to have been slapped on or pasted in just to increase the zany factor (or, if you want to be cynical, the running time). I mean so much so that individual scenes appear borrowed from movies of a different genre. The question then becomes whether or not filmmaker Stephen Belber intended such a madcap formula or merely felt pressured. The result, as should have been expected, is uneven, which winds up being a damn shame because Management could have been a contender. For a small movie trying to shoulder its way into the summer m ix, it could have been a hidden gem; either the most touching film of the season or the most pleasantly silly. Instead it is a fair balance of the two, but at the same time diluting the overall effect of both. Heartbreakingly real moments are interwoven with surreal kookiness without adequate transition or explanation.
What Management surely accomplishes despite the narrative inconsistency, is showcasing the players involved, especially Steve Zahn in a rare leading role. His ability to convey an almost impossible sweetness and naïve innocence as the heir to a rinky-dink roadside motel who falls hard for Anistson’s traveling saleswoman, carries the day. Zahn not only makes the over the top oddness of the film tolerable, he lifts it toward something surprisingly moving. His superlative work makes it a cinematic crime that screenwriter Belber didn’t trust the material enough to keep matters tonally similar throughout. The first quarter of the film, where Zahn and Aniston meet in sublimely awkward fashion, is its best, but Belber mysteriously feels compelled to bring on the blatant wackiness so that…well, I don’t know why. It is as if he believed that Zahn would have been misused and disappointed us if he wasn’t given the ability to do his Saving Silverman/Strange Wilderness thing. He was wrong. Compare an early scene where Zahn and his father, played by the ever-reliable Fred Ward, scatter the ashes of a loved one over a field of brambles as the sun goes down while discuss moving on in life. Sheer beauty and tempered filmmaking. Then watch later episodes: Zahn serenades Aniston with Bad Company’s Feel Like Making Love while playing keyboard, Zahn joins a Buddhist monastery, Zahn parachutes into a swimming pool. A crime I tell you.
As for Aniston and her goal of molding her own creative destiny – she succeeds here, yet for an astonishing reason. Aniston has always been talented, but it was always difficult to imagine someone with her looks, brains, and personality struggling to land the guy of her dreams. Only in the movies and on television do women like Aniston and Sandra Bullock get to play the overlooked or pining “other” girl. However, now with Management, as Aniston reaches the second stage of her career, she has been gifted by time a world weariness that actually makes her credible in this sort of role for the first time. Though she has aged remarkably well, and though you can still recognize Rachel Green peeking through; whether in a wide-eyed reaction, a hesitant smirk, or a wounded expression, Aniston finally shows the wherewithal to escape that character once and for all. Here, when she plays the same cupid’s hard luck case as in the past, its something we can invest in.
Management requires a tremendous leap of faith, as many films do. The object of a film like Management is to win us over either by making the leap remotely plausible or…by simply winning us over. Belber seems to make a run at convincing his audience not to jump. He frustratingly tries to sabotage his own film at times. But in the end he provides enough incentive for us to chance it. And once we do, Zahn and Aniston take care of the rest. By the closing credits, depending on how sentimental you are, you just might be soaring.