Director: Stephen Belber
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard
MPAA Rating: (for language, sexual dialogue and some drug use)
Running Time: 1:32
Release Date: 1/14/15 (limited); 1/23/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 22, 2015
Patrick Stewart dominates Match with a performance that begins as a cliché and slowly reveals that the cliché is itself the performance of a man who wants to hide that there really isn't much behind it. It's what he believes people expect from a Julliard ballet professor—a little lilt in his inflection, a loose physicality, and an unbridled enthusiasm about dance, his career, and himself. Tobias Powell has plenty of stories to tell if one finds him in the mood to relate them, although it seems that the opportunities for him to wax nostalgic about his experiences have dwindled in recent years.
That's perhaps why, when Lisa (Carla Gugino) and Mike (Matthew Lillard) arrive to hear what he has to say about the history of dance and where it's going for her dissertation on the subject, he's more than happy to accommodate them with a personal history. His telling starts in a Greek restaurant, continues as they walk down the street to his home, and is barely finished when they actually arrive at his spacious apartment, where he's proud to announce that he doesn't pay much in rent. He's a man who loves the little details, and he'll go on with the specifics all day if one doesn't stop him.
We first see Tobias—"Tobi," he insists, but never "sir," as he politely scolds one of his students—in his element. He's teaching a class, applauding his students' hard work, and complimenting a student who asks for some feedback. It's all business. He turns down an offer from another faculty member to attend a dinner party over the weekend, and we know it's not the first time he's turned down an invitation to a social event. Next, we see a montage of his life outside of teaching—knitting in bed, eating at a tiny table in his kitchen, and clipping his fingernail into a jar.
When he shows up at the restaurant to meet the married couple from Seattle, he's a bundle of nervous energy. He's shaking. He asks the restaurant manager to provide something for his company to munch on while they talk. Their arrival, he says, is "a violation" of his solitude. He spends part of their introductory chatter apologizing for comparing the softness of Lisa's jacket to a baby's rear end, constantly asking if a certain phrase is "what people say," and never seeming comfortable in the presence of others.
Once he gets to dance, though, he's putting a show. The only subject that thrills him more is when Lisa starts asking about the sexual element of the dance community in the 1960s. Mike starts to get impatient and really wants to know about Tobi's sex life during a specific period.
It's not a surprise that Lisa and Mike aren't there to talk about dance, and it's not a shock to learn what they really want to know. The screenplay by director Stephen Belber is impatient, too, and once it's revealed what's really happening (It's commendable that Belber and cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler change from static shots to a handheld approach as the tone of the conversation shifts, if only that it gives what amounts to a chamber play a bit more visual vitality), the movie rushes through the conflict. Accusations are thrown. Denials are offered. Everyone is on edge, and then Mike charges Tobi with a cotton swab.
It's a big explosion of melodrama coming out of characters whom we've only just met and whose identities are intentionally disguised—Lisa and Mike for reasons that become obvious and Tobi for reasons that he has been debating within himself for decades. The movie calms down considerably after that, though, with Mike disappearing to do an errand, leaving Tobi and Lisa alone in the apartment to contemplate the fallout of what has been revealed, what has happened, and what, if anything, is to be done about it.
Here, the story loses the tension inherent in its setup but gains a better, more melancholy insight into its characters. Tobi and Lisa talk, and while the conversation may revolve around the revelation, their dialogue doesn't depend on it.
They speak of consequences, of the past's effect on the present, and of uncertainty in the future. Tobi is a man who equally loves and regrets his life, but "The whole thing eventually blurs, and it's just my life." Lisa doesn't know what has happened to her husband or why, after an entire lifetime of living with a certain knowledge, something clicked in his mind to change his outlook on life. Stewart may hold the reins of the movie, but Gugino, whose performance is filled with impromptu moments of uninhibited empathy (Note the way Lisa tries to stop Mike's outburst by simply placing her head against his chest), is the understated foil to the other characters and the movie itself.
The middle section of Match is so strong—looking past the melodrama to the hurt, lonely people underneath it—that it's unfortunate Belber hurries the resolution, too. It feels too simple, settling decades of anger and regret with a few scenes of dialogue and a couple shots of the characters on a new path. At this point, we know there's more to these characters, yet the movie treats them as if there were less.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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