All audiences really need to know about the preposterous new indie-tastic romantic comedy Management is that at one point, Steve Zahn crash-lands in a swimming pool owned by punk-turned-yogurt-tycoon Woody Harrelson after parachuting from a plane in an attempt to win Jennifer Aniston’s heart. It’s a ridiculous moment in a film that flaunts its contempt for plausibility and psychological realism, but damned if Zahn doesn’t almost sell the scene and the movie with his naïve, wide-eyed slacker charm.
In a rare, welcome lead performance, Zahn stars as a sweet-natured screw-up who lives in a rundown motel, where he works for practical-minded parents Fred Ward and Margo Martindale. When buttoned-down saleswoman Jennifer Aniston checks in, Zahn makes a spectacularly clumsy pass at her. Out of pity and boredom, Aniston lets Zahn fondle her butt. Later, she has sex with him for reasons known only to her, since Zahn regularly blurs the line between endearingly child-like and mentally challenged. Still, their encounters are all the inspiration he needs to devote his entire life to wooing her. He moves to her city, gets a job at a Chinese restaurant, and is only mildly discouraged when she resumes a romance with obscenely rich, on-again, off-again boyfriend Harrelson.
Opposites attract, but Aniston’s emotionally distant yuppie and Zahn’s emotionally stunted super-doofus barely seem to belong to the same species. Though she reveals a tender side through her charity work, Aniston is cold and joyless, so it seem highly unlikely, even mildly surreal, that she’d feel torn between a pair of stoner icons like Zahn and Harrelson. Aniston halfheartedly encourages Zahn’s increasingly desperate, dramatic attempts to win her love when every other woman in the world would enter the Witness Protection Program in a bid to permanently escape his fevered pursuit. Management does work to some degree, which is a testament to a gifted cast and its loose, amiable tone: Zahn and Harrelson are fun as Aniston’s unlikely lovers, while veteran character actors Ward and Martindale lend an element of gravity and substance to a featherweight trifle. Like its protagonist, Management is dopey and impractical, but strangely winning all the same.