Management

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I suspect “Management” will make about five dollars at the box office and annoy half the people who watch it. It’s being promoted as a comedy, but that’s only because comedies are easier to promote than oddball romantic dramas with comedic elements, which is what this actually is. Someone in marketing saw that it had funny parts and said, “Whew, thank goodness. Now we can mislead audiences into thinking it’s a comedy!”

It’s an ambitious directorial debut by playwright Stephen Belber (“Tape,” “The Laramie Project”), about a socially awkward man who doesn’t see a distinction between being romantic and stalking someone. His name is Mike (Steve Zahn), and he works for his parents (Fred Ward and Margo Martindale) at the roadside motel they own in Kingman, Ariz. Sue Claussen (Jennifer Aniston), who travels the country selling boring paintings to hotels (haven’t you always wondered where hotel-room art comes from?), stays with them for a few nights, and Mike is smitten.

Sue is a mellow, reserved woman, and Mike is actually fairly low-key, too, his impulsive behavior notwithstanding. When he finds lame, embarrassing excuses to visit her motel room, the awkwardness between them is almost unbearable, yet fascinating to watch, too: Why is he so peculiar? And why doesn’t she discourage him more forcefully? It may be that, having dealt with a skin-headed ex-punk boyfriend (Woody Harrelson) whose mania left little room for sensitivity, Sue kind of likes the fact that Mike is so interested in her.

Nonetheless, flying to Maryland and showing up at her office is a bit much, as are several of the other things Mike does — seemingly without giving them a moment’s thought before doing them — in an effort to woo her. Isolated scenes in the film have a certain loopiness to them, and sometimes Mike’s behavior is weird enough to strain credulity, but eventually the story emerges as a sweet (and believable) tale of unlikely romance. After all, when it comes to love, what’s “normal”?

It helps that Belber has Zahn and Aniston in the lead roles. Both are talented, funny actors who are often cast in the wrong types of movies, or who aren’t adequately appreciated when they appear in movies that are perfect for them. Zahn has the goofy-but-sincere thing down pat, like a less mentally handicapped Adam Sandler; Aniston thrives in girl-next-door roles like this one. They make an intriguing pair, and “Management,” for all its hard-to-define mix of melancholy and absurdity, makes for an intriguing movie.

B (1 hr., 33 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity and mild sexuality.)

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