Aniston of the week: Management

This week, we approached another miss-matched couple with trepidation, but we were delighted to see Aniston playing football! Not only that, producing and starring in a flawed but endearing film.

Aniston feels our trepidation

FILM: Management
Stephen Belber
Sue, commercial art dealer
On a work trip to present to potential clients, Sue stays at a motel owned by Trish (Margo Martindale) and Jerry (Fred Ward). Their grown son, Mike (Steve Zahn, The Object of my Affection) also works at the motel. Mike is a socially awkward guy with little experience with women. He decides that Sue is the perfect woman for him based purely on ogling her when she checks in. The plot essentially involves Mike ingratiating himself into Sue’s life, despite her protests, following her across the country, uninvited. Somehow, perhaps out of sympathy, Sue finds Mike somewhat attractive and though she make clear he has violated boundaries, something compels her not to turn him away. Eventually, their lives take different paths, but Mike remains persistent. They both challenge each other to live with more care for themselves. Also Woody Harrelson plays Sue’s lover, an ex-punk called Jango.

Aniston with Steve Zahn as Mike

CHARACTER TRAITS: Generous, charitable, kind, confident, self-posessed (to a point), assertive. Claims not to be a ‘people person’.
The plot of Management is so creepy on paper – socially awkward man stalks woman persistently, demanding affection like a puppy – that initially it’s hard to see how the filmmakers are going to pull this off. That the film is watchable, thoughtful and occasionally funny, is due to Aniston’s well observed and hugely affecting performance. She presents Sue as someone at once at ease with, and slightly outside of her experience of the world. That she makes believable Sue’s resistance and curiosity about Mike is a great accomplishment. One scene in particular really showcases, with tremendous subtlety, how connected Aniston is to her character: after Mike travels to her hometown, Maryland, on a one-way ticket, Sue reluctantly spends time with him but naturally sends him home on the bus. When they part, Mike leans in to kiss Sue’s cheek, and in this moment, Aniston’s micro expressions convey the full range of Sue’s feelings – concern, affection, anxiety, sadness – which demonstrate her internal world and some of the reasons why she’s tolerating Mike. The moment is crucial in persuading the audience to believe in this ‘odd couple’ and Aniston nails it.

Nothing like receiving a massage whilst the two of you listen to music via headphones (?!)

NOTES ON FILM: Writer/Director Stephen Belber is also a successful playwright, and is notable for writing both the stage and screenplay for Richard Linklater’s Tape (2001), a work that relies on each character’s changing perception of the other as slowly, truth is revealed. With Management, though the plot really, really pushes credibility (the skydiving?! Mike becomes a monk?!), it’s again the characters changing perception of each other that carries the film. Despite all its flaws, Belber’s (mainly) emotionally intelligent screenplay and the sheer force of Aniston and Zahn’s performances, make the relationship here, somehow believable.
Aniston produced this also, and her belief in the film is obvious. She’s triumphant.

My week in film: Beyond the Lights, Brooklyn and Joy

Viewed this week, three films about female lives that in different ways present the difficulties of balancing a personal and professional life.

Gina Prince-Blythewood’s Beyond the Lights went without a cinema release in the UK last year, despite its excellent cast (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver, Danny Glover) and pertinent plot – it concerns a young R&B singer struggling with fame and self-perception – and critics felt that this might be due to an expectation of the audience’s racial bias, among other reasons (The best films you won’t see in cinemas, Telegraph). Now on Netflix, the film is well worth seeking out. Mbatha-Raw plays Noni, coached by her mother (Driver) from a young age to succeed at all costs in the tough music business, who is on the brink of releasing an album that will ‘change everything.’ Clearly unhappy with the enormous pressure, after an awards show, Noni attempts suicide but is talked down from her hotel balcony by the police officer (Nate Parker) assigned to her. What follows is Noni’s uncertain navigation of her future – everything has changed for her, but her mother/manager ignores her internal struggle.

Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Beyond the Lights isn’t without cliché, its bodyguard/singer central pairing is very familiar, but what’s refreshing is the way Prince-Blythewood creates a world for her authentic characters that feels utterly convincing and deeply sympathetic to Noni’s journey towards emancipation. Taught at a pivotal, early stage in life that only winning is of value, regardless of what is costs, Noni must learn to value herself first, instead. Mbatha-Raw’s performance is immensely affecting, as she balances Noni’s public and private personas with skill.

Another enjoyable performance is at the heart of Brooklyn, now nominated for three Oscars (Best Film, Best lead actress*, Best adapted screenplay) and six BAFTA’s (Best film, lead actress, supporting actress, best screenplay, best costume design and best make-up). Adapted by Nick Hornby from the novel by Colm Tóibín, the 1950’s set Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), who moves to New York from Ireland to work, leaving behind her sister, Rose and mother. Eilis, at first homesick, eventually settles into her life working at a department store, taking night classes in accounting and living at Mrs Keogh’s (Julie Walters) boarding house, all arranged by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Eilis even falls in love, with Tony (Emory Cohen), and their tender romance is the final element that will bond her to her new home.

Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan

Again, it’s the expectations of others that Eilis must rebel against. When drawn home, it appears to Eilis that the life she never thought she’d have in Ireland might be possible after all, and director John Crowley makes much of her homeland’s charms, just as her friends and relatives appear desperate for her to stay. As in Beyond the Lights, it’s the search for freedom that is essential to the character. Though both films have romantic elements, neither Noni or Eilis are motivated entirely by their relationships with men, rather it’s their desire to discover a life that will be true to their own ideals and values that drives each narrative.

In David O. Russell’s Joy, with Jennifer Lawrence in the title role, the struggle for financial success plays a greater part in the story, where Lawrence’s divorced mother of two pursues her dream as the inventor of a self-wringing mop. Living with her permanently bed-located mother and her ex-husband and father in the basement, whilst maintaining a job as a travel agent with an unreliable car, much is made of Joy’s chaotic life. Like David Lynch before him (but with half as much style), Russell uses the camp of soap operas as an analogue for Joy’s messy life, where the stakes are high and a large cast of characters are all invested in the outcome of her invention.

l-r Edgar Ramirez, Elizabeth Rohm, Dascha Polanco, Isabella Rossellini, Robert De Niro Jennifer Lawrence, Diane Ladd

There’s lots to enjoy here- Virginia Madsen’s affectionate performance as Joy’s mother Terry, the lolloping pace, which seems to progress the film’s plot in spirals, and of course, just the presence of Isabella Rossellini. There’s something a little bit bonkers about Joy, too though, and not in a way that feels purposeful, as was the case with the delightful and thoughtful I Heart Huckabees. It’s an American Dream tale after all, and the many set-backs Joy faces feel somehow artificial, (but maybe that’s the point) as though she must overcome an ever increasing number of hurdles in order to truly appreciate being able to have power hair and wear a power suit and be the entrepreneur her granny always knew she would be. Where Joy fails and Brooklyn and Beyond the Lights succeed, is in giving a sense of who their central characters are, rather than just being an accumulation of personal struggles.

Also watched: Slow West (John Maclean), which was somewhat unconvincing.

My week in film: Melissa McCarthy twice plus Tangerine

Pretty soon the viewing habits of this writer will all feature the sight of a Christmas tree, tinsel, presents and/or snow, but for the last week before the festive holidays commence proper, there’s been time to catch some of the year’s lauded comedies and acclaimed dramas. screen20shot202015-06-2420at203-05-5420pmSean Baker’s Tangerine has been widely praised and discussed since its world premiere at Sundance in January. Shot using an iPhone 5 in West Hollywood, the film follows trans sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) around LA over the course of one day – Christmas Eve – while Sin-Dee attempts to confront her boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) for cheating on her with a cis-gendered woman. The film is remarkably cinematic, due to Baker and co-cinematographer Radium Cheung’s discovery of an anamorphic adapter for the iPhone that allowed them to shoot in scope. Assumptions about a film shot with a phone are quickly dispelled as wide roof-top shots and street scenes open up the film’s setting and capture the character’s sprawling environment.

Mya Taylor as Alexandra and Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee

Baker developed the story from his friendship with Mya, and there’s an authentic energy to the way Alexandra and Sin-Dee interact, the latter’s fast paced, lisp inflected dialogue conveying an impatience that contrasts with her cohort’s ‘no drama’ principles. Tangerine shows the toughness of its character’s lives, the dangers inherent in getting into a strangers car with no guarantee that they won’t turn violent. Alongside this vulnerability, Baker’s film demonstrates how his character’s care and look after each other, and relate through humour, the result is a film that’s as open to being serious as is to being silly and heartfelt. Melissa McCarthy in SpyOther films viewed this week include two starring Melissa McCarthy, one a re-watch of Bridesmaids, and another Paul Feig helmed comedy, Spy, which also stars Miranda Hart and Jude Law. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-based CIA agent usually guiding Law’s active spy Bradley Fine through his covert operations via an ear piece. When disaster strikes, Susan offers to go into the field herself, assuming her lack of experience will make her less of a target for the agencies enemies. McCarthy is reliably hilarious, and there’s some sharp observations of workplace sexism in the way her character is frequently assigned aliases that reinforce stereotypes about a person of Susan’s size, age and gender. Jason Statham, is given ample opportunity to ape his Transporter-like persona, throwing out boastful lines attesting to his strength and indestructability with an almost insatiable frequency. That McCarthy is very a dramatic, comedic and action star here is immensely enjoyable, even if spy spoofs bring with them their own clichés.

Coming soon (or maybe after a festive lull), Cinematic Investigations on Star Wars, Christmas movies and a full review of 2015 highlights. For those interested in my official top ten of 2015, check out words in praise of Carol – CineVue’s film of the year plus links at the bottom of the page to my LetterBoxd list.