Monday, January 19, 2015

Another Compelling Character Study On Screen: Match Delivers!

The Good: Wonderful acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: Very simplistic plot
The Basics: Match shows off the impressive acting talents of Patrick Stewart, Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino without telling a really big or interesting story.

Lately, it seems like I have been watching a lot of new movies that have not quite landed with me. While some have been straight-out duds, others have simply failed to live up to the hype that permeates this time of year (Oscar Pandering Season). So, I found myself ridiculously excited about one of the few understated, unhyped movies being released this weekend, albeit in fairly limited release. The film is Match and all I had to hear about it before committing to watching it was that it stars Sir Patrick Stewart (the fact that Carla Gugino, whose performances have consistently impressed me, was in it only added to the short-lived excitement I had for the film before watching it).

Match is based upon a play by the film’s writer and director, Stephen Belber. It is worth noting, up front, that I have not seen the theatrical work upon which Match was based; this is a pure review of the film as it stands on its own. Fortunately, Match is deep and compelling enough to make for a good film that is worth watching . . . if for nothing else than the impressive performances it contains.

Tobi Powell is a demanding dance instructor/director who lives in self-imposed isolation. Despite having some fairly strict routines and rules – Raoul at the local Greek diner knows him well and is willing to make party mix for the Julliard instructor – Tobi meets with Lisa and her husband, Mike, at his beloved local dive. The two begin to interview Tobi at the restaurant and he leads them back to his apartment to continue the interview for Lisa’s dissertation. At Tobi’s apartment, both Lisa and Mike start to ask specifically about Tobi’s history coming up in the 1960s. When they start to ask about sex in the 1960s, Tobi begins to get high in order to remember and loosen up with the stories.

With Lisa and Mike pressing for details and bringing up Gloria Rinaldi, someone Tobi hooked up with in the late 1960s, Tobi begins to suspect that Lisa and Mike have specific goals that have nothing to do with a “dissertation.” Tobi quickly puts together that Mike thinks that Tobi is his father. While he denies the probability of being Mike’s father, Mike – whose mother died after having to give up her career as a dancer and be a secretary instead – insists he take a paternity test. After Mike forcibly takes a sample from Tobi, he abandons Lisa at the dance instructor’s apartment. As Mike races to confirm paternity, Lisa and Tobi discuss their relationship.

The role of Tobi Powell might well have been one of the most daring roles for Patrick Stewart . . . had he not played the flamboyantly gay director for one of the most memorable episodes in the history of Frasier. That said, Stewart is amazing in the role of Powell. Stewart manages to evolve the role of Powell beautifully over the course of Match. Stewart goes through a wonderful emotional transformation on-screen, much like Stanley Tucci did in Some Velvet Morning (reviewed here!). Stewart once again asserts himself as a master performer with simply his facial expressions and the power of his reactions. Director Stephen Belber captures the master’s expressions perfectly.

Matthew Lillard gives, perhaps, the performance of his career in Match. From almost the first moment Mike sits down, he is stiff and has a clear wall up. Lillard emotes well with his eyes; actually he withholds expressing much with his eyes and he manages to insinuate backstory and motive long before it is made explicit. Lillard still brings some wonderful humor to the role, like when Mike sees Tobi’s vase full of fingernail clippings! At the other end of the spectrum, when Lillard silently looks through photographs in Tobi’s apartment and speaks about certitude, he is strong, serious and credible as his character is revealed to be a cop. Having seen Lillard play goofy so often, the role of Mike illustrates that he has genuine acting chops and he nails the part.

Carla Gugino fleshes out the triumvirate perfectly. Gugino’s Lisa is a good foil for Mike and she lends a the sympathetic voice to the more intense, rational, and deeply wounded character of Mike. Gugino and Lillard have decent on-screen chemistry to make for a credible couple, especially at the outset of the film. Gugino and Stewart play off one another incredibly well. Gugino is saddled with a lot of exposition to describe the relationship Lisa and Mike have and Gugino emotes through it in a compelling-enough way.

Match does not make the audience wait for Mike to find out the truth for it to come out and it makes the film seem far less pretentious than it could. That said, Match is a remarkably simple film that, given its intimate scope, feels very much like a play. Belber does a decent job of minimizing the near-plotlessness of Match to make good use of the screen – especially in capturing facial expressions and the emotions revealed through the actors’ eyes – but he is limited by his own creation. The result is a movie that deserves more attention, but is not a sterling example of incredible cinema; it is a reminder to those who love film that theater has merit and deserves our attention as well.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Last Five Years
The Voices
Love, Rosie
The Seventh Son
Song One
Project Almanac
American Sniper
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
The Imitation Game


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of films from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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