Jennifer Aniston can make big multiplex movies, but every now and again she scratches an indie itch with something smaller and odder: thus “The Good Girl,” one of her best performances, and the new “Management,” a genuinely strange little romantic comedy.
The story begins at a nondescript motel in Kingman, Ariz., where Mike (Steve Zahn), the childlike son of the owners, is smitten by Sue (Aniston), a customer.
Somehow they have a tiny little intimate encounter, which is all Mike needs to gather all his money and fly to the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore, where Sue works.
This would be peculiar in itself, because stalking has little charm. Mike’s puppy-dog manner is not promising either, except in the way it evokes pity from Sue.
As writer-director Stephen Belber’s story develops, these mismatched individuals keep colliding, mostly because Mike won’t let his infatuation die.
Eventually he follows Sue to Aberdeen, Wash., where she has gone to stay with her boyfriend, an ex-punk yogurt magnate played, inevitably, by Woody Harrelson.
Right there you get a measure of this movie’s quirkiness: It’s a romantic comedy set partly in Aberdeen. How often does that happen?
This is one of those films with all the right ingredients, apparently — but somehow the cooking process must’ve been a little off. Because although it has truly funny moments and some extremely appealing performances, “Management” can’t find that seamless groove.
I like it, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you can swallow the ill-formed premise, there are insights and observations here to enjoy.
Belber, a playwright whose work includes the Richard Linklater film “Tape,” has a nice eye for woebegone American places and people. Fred Ward and Margo Martindale are just right as Mike’s hard-working parents, and James Liao is a cut-up as Mike’s best buddy in Aberdeen.
Steve Zahn is an innately comic presence, and his zonked innocence keeps his character from becoming overly creepy. Both he and Aniston are playing screwball-comedy ideas, not real people — it helps to remember this as you try to make the film make sense.
Aniston’s patented facial reactions and deft comic timing are put to good use here, but she doesn’t have a fix on the somewhat bewildering Sue. I’m not sure what actress could unlock this character, however.
She exists not in Kingman or Aberdeen but only in a place where clockwork zaniness has a chance to play out.