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Reviews of movies with the actor Steve Zahn, whose face you would recognize from numerous supporting parts even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, almost inevitably contain the word “puppy.” He is at his most puppyish as the star of Management, but remember that puppies are those creatures that chew up your slippers, pee all over the place, and generally refuse to do what they’re told.

Zahn has always reminded me a bit of Crispin Glover, and that latent creepiness informs his role as Mike, who manages his parent’s motel in a forgettable area of Arizona. He has pretty much given up on his life, at least until he is smitten by a two-night visitor. Sue (Jennifer Aniston) sells paintings to hotels, a corporate job she endures (she tells herself) because it leaves her freedom to do charity work, There is no reason why she should be attracted to Mike, especially when he puts moves on her that are (I think) meant to be endearingly clumsy but which seem kinda creepy. But succumb she does, at least for what she assumes will be a fast few minutes of slap-and-tickle before she flies off to another city.

The rest of this romantic comedy centers on Mike’s relentless efforts to become a part of her life, which take him from Arizona to Maryland to Aberdeen Washington, where he must compete with Woody Harrelson as a punk rocker turned yogurt mogul.

Someday it would be nice to see a movie about someone who fails at a relationship, learns from it, and moves on. (The closest I’ve ever seen to that are movies where the protagonist is in another relationship by the end of the movie.) This is not that movie.

There are viewers, I am willing to bet, for whom this will become their favorite movie. Writer-director Stephen Belber, a playwright making his movie debut, manages to engage us with both characters by the film’s end despite serious foundering in the early scenes. There is a lot of Orientalism which may be of more than incidental significance (Buddhist viewers may be able to offer some input on this), but it doesn’t overwhelm what is essentially a sweet-natured movie about people who find that it’s never too late to break out of bad life habits.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Management

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