Holy hell, it's an independent comedy about a sweetly damaged man who falls in love with a prickly woman with a heart of gold, and proceed to show his love for her in the quirkiest ways possible, which is meant to be all super-cute except that it shades into stalking, and even if it didn't the quirky trappings would still be a lot more fucking annoying the funny! Man, doesn't that sound exactly like a movie that hasn't ever been made before?

In fairness to Management, the stalkery bits don't come off quite as obnoxious as they usually do in movies where some screenwriter demonstrates his (it's always a "him") inability to imagine psychologically healthy courtship rituals, because the characters actually call attention to them: "Stop following me" and "You're insane" and "This is stalking" says Sue (Jennifer Aniston) to Mike (Steve Zahn) at numerous points, and yet she never actually takes real steps to stop him from doing what he's doing. This reads to Mike, and to audience, as her way of indicating that she is actually attracted to him, but she's also scared a little bit of letting her guard down and permitting him to enter her carefully regimented life. So yes, it's still a cliché, but not a morally outrageous cliché.

Management is the story of what happens when a sad man-child who works as the night manager of his parents' Arizona motel falls in love at first sight with one of the guests, awkwardly tries to seduce her - in the most innocent way, of course - in her room, pursues her to Baltimore, goes home, and then pursues her to Aberdeen, Washington, where she has gone to marry an ex-punk yogurt mogul who raises attack dogs. I kind of hated it a bit. If the film is to work at all, it is going to work because of Zahn's off-kilter, slightly inhuman earnestness; because of Aniston's girl-next-door attractiveness and ability to deliver a sarcastic line that sounds almost sincere; because Margo Martindale and Fred Ward, in small roles as Mike's parents, are such naturally gifted character actors; because the soundtrack choices are canny and modern without tipping to far into smug hipness; but at no point because of the script. Written by Stephen Belber (here making his directorial debut), Management presents characters whose behavior is the behavior of grotesques; there is no connection drawn between what happens on the page and what is recognisably human.

The closest thing the movie has to a saving grace is indeed Steve Zahn, who's natural presence is weird enough that he makes the behavior plausible; but it remains the case now as ever, that if Steve Zahn is a film's primary point of identification for the audience, that is a film in grave trouble. I'm not looking to repeat the idiotic canard that only movies with relatable characters are worthwhile; obviously there are plenty of great films and great comedies especially where there's not a single relatable moment depicted onscreen. In other words, I don't suppose that anyone has ever watched His Girl Friday and left saying, "I undoubtedly found something of myself in those characters, and relate to them thoroughly." But Management is not His Girl Friday. It is a film that is full of quiet little moments that leave no doubt whatsoever that we're meant to find Mike and Sue's experiences to be tender and touching. And they're just not tender and touching people: she is a typically underwritten woman in a genre where women are more apt to be functional elements than legitimate characters, and he is a cartoon monster. The peculiar and especially alienating thing about this particular movie is that it feels somewhat like the Napoleon Dynamite-derived line of indie film in which we laugh because the characters are such awful, inferior beings, and yet everything about the plot, and indeed how the plot is presented, suggests that Belber expects us to root for the characters to find love and happiness. I don't like to draw dichotomies, but I don't see any way to resolve that, on the one hand, this is a cringe-based comedy about idiots, and on the other hand, this is a sweet date movie.

I'm certain that Belber never even thought about this being a potential trap for his movie, so debased is the modern indie comedy. Of course the protagonist is a buffoonish caricature, and of course everyone does marvelously idiosyncratic things at all moments, like play giant electric keyboards or work for the company that provides ugly artwork to hotels! I mean, isn't that hi-lariously quirky? The ugly artwork at hotels! Get it?

No, I do not get it, but I gave up a long time ago that I would ever again get the humor of this kind of movie. If this is anyone else's cup of tea, I wish them the joy of it. In the meantime, I am going to sit and quietly lament that Management was so happy to waste a fine bittersweet romantic turn by Aniston (an actress who's always at her best in wee little movies like this one), and keep Zahn (a fine actor when he sets his mind to it; viz) slumming in the thankless realm of roles that demand of him only that he be absolutely zany and elfin. I lament even more the fact that Management had the rare chance of being a successful romantic comedy about people in their 40s, if only it hadn't jumped so quickly into the quirky thickets. Most of all, I think, I lament the fact that the producers of this movie aw fit to pay for not one, but two New Pornographers songs, which are then used in such a whorish way as to provide fake emotional resonance for a movie that doesn't do a damned thing to earn any proper emotion on its own.