Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Aniston & Zahn in Belber's MANAGEMENT: Modern romance gets a tease & a twist

Unlikely love stories can be fun, funny, moving or sad. MANAGEMENT, written and directed by Stephen Belber (at left, who also wrote the play -- and then the screenplay for -- Tape), is one of these. It manages, in its hour-and-one-half, to be all of the above, as well as melancholy, weird, silly and surprising. That it holds together at all is due to its theme and execution, and to the performances of the cast, particularly of its two stars.

That theme, present from the very first, is the idea that, while people may not be

able to change, they are still capable of growth -- within the framework of their character. The two stars who carry this charming film are Jennifer Aniston, looking quite trim, and Steve Zahn, looking very buff.

Ms Aniston (at right and below, right) can do this kind of role in her sleep (and occasionally has: Along Came Polly, Derailed) but here, fortunately, she is committed and believable, first to last, as the working girl who must remain in control and is able to give only so long as she can hold back the important stuff. Mr. Zahn (above and below, left) has been splendid in sidekick roles for so long now that those of us who love his work had pretty much given up hope of seeing him in a decent leading role. (He almost had one in Bandidas, a movie more fun that you may have heard, but of course was eclipsed by Señoritas Hayek and Cruz.) Here, he finally comes into his own as a hero who's endearing and funny, one you can root for without reservation.

Back to that theme: Mr. Belber plays with it cleverly from the beginning, but despite the many paces he puts his duo through, these characters do not, finally, change all that much. What the writer/director does is open up their environments, and consequently their lives, so that both have the opportunity to expand and grow. Which they do, in ways that are alternately crass and funny, touching and sweet.

Also on hand is Woody Harrelson (above) to provide grit, ego and intelligence. Isn't this actor almost always excellent? In the last year or two alone, he's been great in No Country for Old Men, The Grand, Battle in Seattle, Transsiberian and even the execrable Seven Pounds). Zahn's parents are played by Fred Ward and the wonderful Margo Martindale (with too little screen time, but she's still aces), while James Hiroyuki Liao (below, who's done mostly TV) also registers strongly as the young man who takes Zahn under his wing when our hero moves to a new town.

Management's no classic, mind you. Yet it bounces along from event to event, keeping us engaged and chuckling until the finale, which leaves us feeling good without feeling stupid -- a circumstance always appreciated when the lights comes up on us plebes who've been sitting there in the dark.

The movie opens this Friday, May 15, all over town (in NYC, at least, but I suspect you'll be seeing it soon in other major U.S. cultural centers, as well).

2 comments:

GHJ - said...

Jim - I will have to check this out now. I was planning on avoiding it like the plague because of the awful trailer, but that's not always an indication of worth.

James van Maanen, said...

I haven't seen the trailer, Glenn, but I find that trailers are usually "spoilers," if nothing else. I hate and distrust them. Once you've seen the movie, let me know, OK? (You'll probably blog it, right? I'll keep a watch out.) Of course, I may also have a higher tolerance for romantic comedy than you.