'Management': The Kind of RomCom Business You Can Get Into

Could they be any cuter? Jennifer Aniston as Sue, the go-getter pursed by the lovable loser Mike (Steve Zahn).
Could they be any cuter? Jennifer Aniston as Sue, the go-getter pursed by the lovable loser Mike (Steve Zahn). (By Suzanne Hanover -- Samuel Goldwyn Films Via Associated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

How's this for creepy?

In the movie "Management," an attractive single woman named Sue (Jennifer Aniston) is traveling alone on business in an unfamiliar Arizona town and checks into a seedy motel. There, she finds the tongue-tied night manager, Mike, lurking outside her door two nights in a row with a bottle of cheap wine, "compliments of the management." "You have a nice butt," he tells her. After a brief, impulsive sexual encounter in the laundry, Sue flies back home to Columbia, Md., never to hear from Mike again.

Until he shows up on her doorstep.

Sounds like a gender-swapping remake of "Fatal Attraction."

Did I mention that this is a delightfully screwball romantic comedy? And that Mike -- who in any other movie would be a creepy stalker -- is a lovable goofball played by Steve Zahn?

Yeah, that Steve Zahn (see MovieMakers interview on Page 24 of today's Weekend). The one who, in a litany of movies from "Daddy Day Care" to "Happy, Texas," has built a career playing endearing losers. If Steve Zahn showed up outside your seedy motel room -- even if he were carrying a bloody chain saw instead of a bottle of wine -- you'd probably invite him in. In a way, he's more like a puppy that's followed Sue home.

Come to think of it, he's exactly like a puppy. In fact, when Mike wakes up on the floor of Sue's bedroom in Columbia -- What? She's going to kick him out? He's Steve Zahn! -- and then crawls into bed with her after their first platonic night together (heck, it's their first night together of any kind) the look on his face is so insanely adoring that you half expect him to lick her face.

And he's the single biggest reason why "Management" works.

Like watching a puppy chase its tail, it's a pleasure watching Mike try to win Sue over. Which is only slightly complicated by the fact that he's a 40-ish loser with no life or prospects whatsoever, and she's an accomplished go-getter with real, concrete goals. Who cares if real-life boyfriends -- or even real-life wannabe boyfriends -- don't do stuff like show up outside your house at night to serenade you with music (in this case, a live, nearly a cappella rendition of Bad Company's 1975 hit "Feel Like Makin' Love")? They should. And, hey, it worked for John Cusack in "Say Anything."

But the real setback happens when Sue gets back together with -- then impregnated by -- her former boyfriend, a punk-rocker-turned-yogurt-magnate (Woody Harrelson). Now there's someone who can play both cute and creepy. As the shaved-headed Jango, Harrelson dances between the bristling menace of "Natural Born Killers" and a mellow, New Age buzz. He's a lot of fun, even when shooting a BB gun at Mike, who has just parachuted into Jango's pool in an attempt to impress Sue.

I know, I know. Testosterone ain't pretty. Aniston, on the other hand, is. But she's an accomplished comic actress, too. If anyone can make you believe that she'd let a total stranger touch her on the rump, she can. And yes, that's her reaction to Mike's crass motel compliment.

She also makes visible the cracks in Sue's own armor. Cracks that can be healed only by someone like Mike. "I know what you need," he tells her. "To take care of yourself so that the people who love you don't feel like they're annoying you."

As for the rest of the cast, James Liao makes for an ingratiating Al, a waiter in a Chinese restaurant who quickly becomes Mike's best -- er, only -- friend. Make that enabler. That sidewalk serenade? And the parachute thing? Both Al's ideas.

He provides more than comic relief, though. Eventually he sets Mike on a path of self-discovery that leads to . . . well, this is, after all, Hollywood. You thought, maybe, they weren't going to get together?

"Sweet just doesn't cut it," Sue tells Mike, in one of her increasingly futile attempts to make him go away. Maybe not in real life, but this is the movies.

Management (93 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for a sex scene, some obscenity and comic violence.

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