Management

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- The plot doesn't always make sense, and when it does it's often pretty predictable, but when all is said and done, this romantic comedy starring the ultracute Steve Zahn and Jennifer Aniston ultimately delivers the goods, even if the goods aren't very fresh.

The film still lacked an American distributor when screened here at the Toronto film festival, and it's unclear whether it will ever get one. At best, however, the release will be a small one, and at worst the film's a good candidate for straight-to-video.

Steve Zahn plays Steve Zahn -- a warm and fuzzy if feckless would-be Lothario whose awkward pickup lines inspire more pity than passion -- though in this film, he is named Mike. He runs a broken-down motel in the middle of nowhere in Arizona (some viewers will think more than once of Norman Bates), and one day Sue (Aniston), who sells sofa-sized art, checks into the motel, sending Mike into a romantic tizzy.

For some reason that the script never succeeds in explaining, this beautiful, sophisticated, high-powered corporate lady has a wild one-time fling with Mike in the laundry room. Unfortunately for her, the smitten Steve follows her back to her home in Baltimore, and the standard-issue impediments to true love, as well as the rest of the usual tangle of rom-com cliches, are born, sort of thrive and lead irrevocably in one direction.

"Management" has its moments, especially the ones featuring Woody Harrelson as Aniston's former boyfriend, a retired punk rocker who is now a yogurt king living in a mansion in Washington state, and Zahn's schtick of the awkward babbler, though overly familiar, often provokes a smile.

Aniston is adorable and winning, as always, but her character falls a few rewrites short of ever being completely coherent. Naturally, Mike smokes and doesn't recycle, while Sue hates smoking and is an ardent conservationist. And so on. The script is occasionally witty, as when Mike writes Sue what he calls "an elongated haiku."

Miraculously, director-writer Stephen Belber manages to pull everything together and to jerk a few tears at the end, when the real lovers are finally united.

Production: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson. Director-screenwriter: Stephen Belber. Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen.
Director of photography: Eric Edwards
Production designer: Judy Becker
Editor: Kate Sanford
Sales: Kimmel International
No rating, 93 minutes.


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