Management (review)

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Stalking: The Movie

I’m sure it happens in real life, that dorky guys who don’t know how to behave around women and do weird and inappropriate things to catch their attention and keep doing weird and inappropriate things to continue to demand their attention even after they’ve been asked not to do sometimes end up with the nice, pretty, ordinary girls they’ve been stalking. But not as often the regular and inevitable thing that a movie like Management would have us believe. The fact that movies like Management continue to get made says to me that this is one male fantasy that real life is not getting satisfied on any regular basis.
There’s nothing wrong with fantasy. Movies are fantasies. But I’m so tired of male fantasies constantly being catered to while female fantasies are all but ignored. Now, I try not to condemn a single film because it happens to exist in a genre that is already overcrowded, if that film is otherwise a good enough movie in itself. So I’m not coming down hard on Management just because it has the dumb luck to be the 1,754th movie by men about overgrown boys stalking hapless women that I’ve seen, instead of the first or second. I’m coming down hard on Management because it can’t even be bothered to consider its concept from the perspective of the female protagonist it would like us to like.

Look: Jennifer Aniston’s corporate sales rep would never, ever fuck the creepy motel manager who harasses her during a one-night stay in his Arizona motel. Even if he is adorable Steve Zahn. Cuz he’s not “adorable Steve Zahn” to her: he’s the weird guy from the front desk who inappropriately brings a bottle of cheap, undrinkable champagne to her room in the hopes that she will actually believe that this is a courtesy the establishment extends to all its guests. And even though she doesn’t believe him, not one bit, and is not charmed by him, not one bit, for some reason that exists only inside the head of writer-director Stephen Belber and in the masturbatory whimsies of guys like Zahn’s Mike, she gives him a quick fuck in the motel laundry room the next morning, as she’s about to check out.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the hopeless romantic in this scenario. But, you know, I think most women know that if you’re trying to get rid of a loser like Mike, you don’t fuck him. Because that’ll be the only intimate contact with another human being he’s had in years, if ever, and now you’ll never get rid of him.

And Aniston’s Sue is surprised when Mike shows up at her place of work in Maryland a few days later in pursuit of her? Pul-leeze.

Now, frankly, given the preposterousness of the scenario, the total lack of a need for yet another movie about stalking as romance, and my tiredness with seeing male fantasies about love and sex indulged while women’s realities (never mind fantasies!) about love and sex are ignored, I found Management surprisingly sweet. It pains me to say this, because, well, it’s like fucking an annoying loser in the hopes that he’ll leave you alone after that. I don’t want to encourage any more movies like this one to be made. But Management really should be ickier than it is.

I credit Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning, The Great Buck Howard) for that: he has an irresistible charm as a screen presence that, if it doesn’t exactly make Mike himself charming, does make him real, and not the caricature of the loser he might have been. (A smart subplot about his relationship with his parents, played by the indispensable Margo Martindale [Stop-Loss, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story] and Fred Ward [Sweet Home Alabama, Enough], helps.) In the long run — and with the caveat that we have more information that Sue does about Mike — it’s not impossible to see that Sue might eventually fall for him.

But Management ignores too much of who and what Sue is to let us buy it. Aniston (Marley & Me, The Break-Up) has a thankless, and probably impossible job here: to humanize a woman who appears to have no aspirations, no dreams, no goals, no life of her own, as Belber has created her. Belber doesn’t even bother to wonder about, I dunno, the self-esteem of a woman who would encourage a stalker and accept his advances.

That’s what pisses me off about Management: all that matters about the woman is that she is an object of desire. She doesn’t have to be a person of her own. It doesn’t matter what she wants, merely that she is wanted.

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Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Fri, May 15, 2009 12:35pm

The writers who concocted Aniston’s character for this movie may have been working from an assumption that has become all too common nowadays: that a woman who is attractive and intelligent cannot also be fully sane.

It’s derived from an old saying among engineers, about choices that must be made when designing and building a new product. Managers want the design cycle to be as quick, as low in cost, and as high in quality as possible. Engineers point out that you can’t have all three at the same time. Quality and speed both cost money, so the only way to minimize costs is to give up one of the other two design goals. They summarize this in the saying “Better, faster, cheaper: pick any two.”

Engineers often transpose engineering principles to other areas of life, and when they apply this saying to the subject of women, it becomes “Attractive, intelligent, sane: pick any two.”

Of course this idea hasn’t stayed in the subculture of engineers. It plays right into the fantasies of every socially awkward male who hopes to find the one hot, smart woman whose inevitable insanity just happens to take the form of a self-esteem low enough to make her attracted to socially awkward males.

Fri, May 15, 2009 1:11pm

Ahhh, but does it have a gratuitous dick shot?

Fri, May 15, 2009 10:20pm

I must admit that as a male victim of hollywood’s refusal to depict female fantasies, i’m having trouble imagining what they are and how different they are from typical male fantasies.

What kind of female fantasies would you like to see dipictied on the big screen, MaryAnn?

Sat, May 16, 2009 1:43am

Excellent question Newbs. Where’s Tim1974 when you need him?

It plays right into the fantasies of every socially awkward male who hopes to find the one hot, smart woman whose inevitable insanity just happens to take the form of a self-esteem low enough to make her attracted to socially awkward males.

So you’re assuming that nerdy guys remain nerdy in their own fantasies? That seems unlikely, and I have some expertise in this area =P

This movie is not a male fantasy. It’s a male idea of what a female fantasy looks like.

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Sat, May 16, 2009 2:23am

You and Mathias seem to be using a different meaning of the word “fantasy” than I am, JoshB. I’m talking about the fantasy world where a person imagines they might find lasting happiness without real effort.

Where, for example, a nerdy guy imagines he doesn’t need social graces, basic hygiene, stylish clothing, or physical fitness to attract a beautiful woman. Or where an oafish guy imagines he can attract a beautiful woman into a long term relationship without ever making any effort to outgrow his infantile comfort zone.

Or there’s the common fantasy of winning the lottery, which has about the same odds in real life.

Mon, May 18, 2009 9:40pm

I can only speak on my behalf, but my “women’s fantasies” aren’t that different from the so-called men fantasies being depicted out there. You know, like ending up with the person on whom I have a crush despite being, well, imperfect.

It seems that in movies, women are never the pursuer (unless they are psycho stalkers, à la Obsessed, or are waiting for a theoretical, as yet unknown knight in shining armor). Oh, sometimes they fancy a man in particular–and they may even hook up with him–but he always turns out to be this cad they were better off without (after they learned their lesson). Then of course they end up “seeing the light” and bowing to the advances of whoever is courting them.

For once I’d like to see a woman end up with a man because she likes him, wants him and seeks him–successfully.

Wed, May 20, 2009 7:27am

@millie – Ever see Elizabethtown?

…that’s the only one I can think of, which is rather sad, but at least there’s one.

Wed, May 20, 2009 11:17am

To millie: Bringing Up Baby.

Wed, May 20, 2009 2:35pm

“To millie: Bringing Up Baby.”

see, also: What’s Up Doc (a stepchild of BUP but amusing)

also: Hello Dolly, The Matchmaker

but that’s very very few and the women in them do not pursue “perfect” men, but interesting, flawed and slightly timid, men.

Wed, May 20, 2009 2:37pm

ah, also meant to mention “Charade” (the original, with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn — where the lovely, young and slightly nervy audrey pursues the rather stately and reluctant grant. has one of the most romantic scenes on that tour boat!)

Wed, May 20, 2009 3:36pm

Man, at least two of these films involve Cary Grant, and most of them aren’t past the 70s. That sucks…there’s got to be more, but I can’t–oh, Ball of Fire! Dammit. Yeah, Cooper is shy and timid in that one…

Wed, May 20, 2009 3:39pm

And does Some Came Running count?

Wed, May 20, 2009 7:01pm

Thank you! Evidently I haven’t seen any of these movies, and I’ll be sure to check them out. I’ve been trying to find examples of my own, and all I can think of is Strange Days.

Wed, May 20, 2009 7:17pm

But there’s still not many modern films that have that, I think. It’s funny, I’m watching Six Feet Under right now, and that’s one of the storylines in the third season involving Ruth, the mom of the family, where she decides to pursue someone, whether he chooses to accept her or not. I’m still in the middle of it, I guess, so I don’t know how it all turns out for her.

Pablo Podhorzer
Pablo Podhorzer
Sat, Sep 12, 2009 9:38am

For once I’d like to see a woman end up with a man because she likes him, wants him and seeks him–successfully”

Well, that woman can have sex with him if she wants (if she is not exceedingly fat, so maybe not in the US) but she should forget about a relationship, and this is the reason why you will not see that kind of movies: the woman is the side that chooses. A single man WILL have sex with a nice girl if she asks (unless he is gay).
The reversed situation is the interesting one: girls have sex only with the guys they’re interested in, being rich, or handsome or intelligent (well, strike the last one, we all know how the system really works).

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 5:28pm

It would be a little strange to make a movie about a woman “persuing” a man. All they seem to do is drop little hints, and then wait to see if the guy picks up the ball or not.

Wait, we can have a training montage of losing weight, buying a new dress for the party he will be at, and putting on make up. Strike up the Rocky music!

No, it just doesn’t quite work. The closest we’re going to get to it is probably “You’ve Got Mail” and “Must Love Dogs.” There is something about the Internet that changes people. But “Charade” was a great movie. Maybe back then they had to write better dialogue because they couldn’t depend on gross out jokes.

Tonio Kruger
Fri, Sep 25, 2009 11:51pm

There is something about the Internet that changes people.

A programmer friend of my late father used to argue that we shouldn’t blame so much stuff on the Internet because the Internet is merely amplifying flaws that are already present in its users.

And he has a point. Inclined towards viewing porn in the offline world? Guess what you’re going to use the Internet for. Inclined to be a bully in the offline world? Guess what kind of stuff you’re going to be posting online. Inclined to spend too many money on offline stores? You’re not likely to be more frugal when it comes to online shopping.

Indeed, one could argue that the main flaw in the Internet is not that it changes people but that it doesn’t change people. At least not enough.

But “Charade” was a great movie. Maybe back then they had to write better dialogue because they couldn’t depend on gross out jokes.

And the censors would let them get away with only so much.

Then again there were a lot of pre-code movies made in the early 30s that got away with a lot of stuff the stuffy Hays Code just wouldn’t permit–and they’re still more entertaining than a lot of more recent movies.

Sat, Sep 26, 2009 4:34am

They summarize this in the saying “Better, faster, cheaper: pick any two.”

Or: “on time, on budget, or it works”.

Where, for example, a nerdy guy imagines he doesn’t need social graces, basic hygiene, stylish clothing, or physical fitness to attract a beautiful woman.

Well, this is one of the reasons I don’t even attempt to participate any more. I have no beef with three of Victor’s desiderata, but that stylish clothing is an essential requirement for attracting a woman I find both an insuperable barrier and unutterably depressing. Makes me miss the Mao suit.

Tonio Kruger
Sat, Sep 26, 2009 5:32pm

Well, this is one of the reasons I don’t even attempt to participate any more. I have no beef with three of Victor’s desiderata, but that stylish clothing is an essential requirement for attracting a woman I find both an insuperable barrier and unutterably depressing.

Because, of course, men never notice how women are dressed…

Seriously, if this is such a problem, you might want to ask a female friend or relative to go with you to the clothing store and pick out the type of clothing that would appeal to her. Preferably someone close to your own age.

It may not help but it wouldn’t hurt.

Sun, Sep 27, 2009 3:15am

I don’t know; when I first got on the Net it took me quite awhile to choose my words as carefully as I did in the off line world, and even now I seem to spout off a lot faster. My students would be shocked at the temper of my online persona, since my personality swings in the opposite direction when dealing with them.

And I read a study last summer about the differences between online and offline porn. Online, it is much more accessible, there is less shame because you don’t have to slip into a store to buy it, and you can flip through it so much faster, thus finding what you want that much more easily. The study concluded online stuff is more addictive and even warps the imagination more, but fortunately the effects are not permantent. Going cold turkey is an effective cure.

I know I didn’t read nearly as many movie reviews once upon a time.

Sun, Sep 27, 2009 3:56am

@Tonio. I made a bet with myself that I’d hear your first sentence and so won. Since I probably cared less about how women are dressed than the average, I shrug off the implied rebuke. See my remark about the Mao suit.

Re your second paragraph, this is not a problem now, because I am out of there, but in the old days your recipe would not have worked, because it would have to be a continuous maintenance from outside, like being a child dressed by Mom. Someone would have picked a whatever for me, and then next week everyone wearing a whatever would be a dork, and do you think I would realise? Moreover, not all of us can “wear” clothes; some people can sleep in the hedge and look like they’re wearing Armani, whereas others can don Armani and immediately look as if they’ve slept in the hedge.

Furthermore, by your well-meant advice you confirm the importance of this issue, which just makes me retreat further into my hermitage. If the game is truly about clothes, then I truly and sincerely and passionately do not want to play. And if a woman were to say the same, then more power to her. This is what I like about talking to people online.

Sun, Sep 27, 2009 5:32pm

There is actually a sexy slob look. The key is to be a man who is a little underweight, perpetually looking like you haven’t shaved in two days, and have floppy hair that occassionally gets in your own face. Dark hair works better because you can see the unshavenness at a distance. A French accent doesn’t hurt, as that completes the description of our local sexy slob in my off line life. This doesn’t attract all women, no look does, but it does work for some.

There are so many fashions, really, to choose from for men. There is the Sears hunk, manly men in sweaters. There’s the underweight hipster. There’s the GOP Walking Wallet look, which looks like an actor playing a lawyer. In parts of the NW, there are still hippies. There’s the dip your wardrobe in ink “goth” look, which works best if you avoid the sun for that pale skinned contrast.

But I sympathize, Grinebiter. When I look at most men’s fashions I feel like I’d just be a poser, so I stick with the classic a nice suit at work and clean but casual the rest of the time. It gives no real hint of my personality, but it hasn’t changed since I was in high school (when I wore suits to debate tournaments).

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 4:22am

@Paul: LOL! Being slightly overweight, with a beard and a dome and formerly a redhead, I think the only part of your sexy slob I can do is a stage-Chevalier growl. :-)

I’m glad someone understands! I also relate to your poser-phobia; for, rightly or wrongly (and this might well be a mistake), I’ve always felt that it is better not to play than make a total ass of oneself. The sin of pride, perhaps?

I might be “clean but casual” too, but I can’t really tell, see, because I am blind and deaf to the whole language. I do have my own taste, but I have no idea what it means in terms of social communication. And, as I said, I can rumple clothes at twenty paces. :-)

A final thing: when it’s too hot for heavy shoes (and because of an orthopedic problem I can’t wear just any shoes either) I go to town in Scholl-type sandals; but, having really sensitive celtic skin, I chafe and sunburn immediately. Therefore I wear — wait for it — socks with sandals. The worst sartorial infraction known to man! String him up! So, I live comfortably with no women but instead my hills, books, history and essays.

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 8:41am

Ah, shoes. I kick them off the second I’m home, due to flat feet. Shoes are actually quite bad for us in the long run. If it wasn’t for idiots dropping glass, etc, everywhere, I’d be tempted to walk barefoot outdoors and carry shoes for going inside places.

You’re bald with a beard and well read? I’d go for the friendly neighborhood guru thing. This involves sweaters and other mildly academic clothing. But don’t be pushy about it; listen for the right moment.

Actually, I must confess, my own affectation was a long black coat sort of like Angel’s on the TV show “Angel.” I must have worn that thing for twenty winters. According to rumor, it made me look both dignified and a little frumpy, but it was kinda cool how it played in the wind or spun when I spun around fast.

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 12:35pm

@Paul: re shoes, doesn’t sound like you’re from Minnesota….. When I was a student, I was due to go on a mountaineering course in Austria, and a week before decided to try to harden my feet by walking barefoot on the lawn. Trod on a bumble-bee. That larned me!

Re guru: my female best buddy from Chicago insists I would have cleaned up there, as a more realistic version of the Wisconsin plot arc from “Love, Actually”. British accent and brains, she says her college pals would have gone for. But as I said, it’s water under the bridge now.

Never saw “Angel”, because I saw “Buffy” just the once and loathed it. I do have a waterproof knee-length black coat, though, that I bought for practicality, living as I do in Europe’s wettest city. Wore it to fight our recent election in, standing in the rain and trying to channel passers-by into our party booth. We lost. Maybe that’s why :-(

Wed, Sep 30, 2009 3:29pm

Re: fashion. If cargo shorts and t-shirts are wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Re: This movie. Yeah, sorry, even if it has some positive qualities, there’s just no way I can get interested in a “girl falls for her stalker” movie. At least if they aren’t subverting the fantasy somehow, by making her at least as crazy and so the stalker suddenly regrets his conquest or something. It’s almost as bad as the “girl falls for her rapist (and it’s a good thing)” theme, which turned me off to reading Ayn Rand before I even got to her broken politics. Let’s not even mention romance novels.

But that concept lead to a great bit in Twelve Monkeys, where Madeleleine Stowe is defending Bruce Willis after just being ‘rescued’, and the police officer asks, in world-weary rhetorical fashion, why the victims always sympathize with the bastards who abduct them and say what nice guys they are. Being a psychiatrist, she actually has an answer for him much to his surprise. Made me chuckle.

But to play it straight, like it’s not crazy? Yeah, sorry, not for me.

Wed, Sep 30, 2009 4:53pm

Well, all movies have to stretch romantic realities. Some just stretch them too far. What’s realistic? Man asks woman, woman says yes or no, movie over in 5 minutes, unless you want to show the flirting conversation beforehand, in which case you have a romantic version of “My dinner with Andre.” And I believe the hero raping the heroine in romance novels started not because they thought it was psychologically realistic, but because they wanted to add sex earlier into the book.

I was reading the submission guidelines for publishers, as writers often do, and discovered that dark fantasy romance and Christian romance have basically the same theme: older, wiser, more powerful man leads woman to into the mysteries of the world he represents. Obviously one is a dark, sexy world with vampires
and the other is all light and bunnies and marriage, but the psychological pattern is the same despite liberal women reading the former and conservatives reading the latter. Ayn Rand falls right into that pattern, except instead of heaven or hell it’s a techno-capitalist paradise. Considering all the heroines doing it with vampires these days, she’s pretty tame.