Saturday, February 25, 2006

MATCH POINT

I'm probably going to writer hell for this (what would that be, I wonder? Nonstop screenings of Joe Eszterhas movies?), but I didn't love MATCH POINT.

Not bad, just meh. But the Woody Allen of THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, ZELIG, and of course MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL is (or was) certainly capable of more than meh.

And he owes us more after inflicting CELEBRITY on us.

SPOILERS and blather follow.

The questions MATCH POINT raises are interesting: what would (or wouldn't) we do to protect what we've worked hard to achieve? What is really important in life, comfort or passion? Does love stop being love when it becomes inconvenient?

Unfortunately, these questions are voiced through dialogue that struck me as merely pedestrian. Joyless, missing that Allen wit. Characters speak exactly what's on their minds, with no hint of subtext. Worse, too many lines clunk awkwardly when they fall from the lips of the very pretty Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson.

I loved most of the character portraits, everyone layered and real and flawed, and Allen definitely knows how to make a loathsome guy still somehow sympathetic (Exhibit A, Sean Penn's jerk of a jazz guitarist in SWEET AND LOWDOWN), but Rhys Meyers' amoral social climber Chris is a sullen cipher, who tells us too much of who he is and shows us too little.

I kept expecting the way in which he plays tennis -- as the title indicates, the game's both a key plot element to the story and its central metaphor -- to reflect some of his ambition, ruthlessness, or manipulative nature.

One moment that does work is Chris' callous pretense of being on a cancelled vacation to avoid his hysterical mistress Nola. Why not give us more of those actions, and cut back on the "I have a very comfortable life with my wife that would be ruined if I left her for my pregnant girlfriend" spoken obviousness?

And why did we, after seeing the movie almost entirely through Chris' eyes, have to take a left turn and spend scenes with the not-suspicious-enough detectives? Why the clumsy ghostly confrontation--OOPS! It's a DREAM! And not even his dream, or the dream of anyone we've spent any time with.

Some of that just feels lazy. I like the sneaky reappearance of the neighbor's wedding ring, but what about Nola's coworker? She knows Nola's seeing someone ("Is it him?" she asks when Chris calls Nola to set her up for the murder), and appears to know about her situation. Wouldn't the police talk to her?

Maybe it's not fair to lay procedural mistakes at Allen's doorstep, since the movie isn't really about murder, but the movie begs it by shifting abruptly into crime drama territory and its important tiny details.

At the end of the day, I liked this movie better when it was CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. Or, for that matter, A PLACE IN THE SUN.

For this rehash, truly original movies like HUSTLE & FLOW and JUNEBUG -- which crackle with dialogue that's both realistic and lyrical, and which leave so much deliciously unsaid -- got shut out of a nom?

The Academy sure does love them some Woody. I did too, once.

4 comments:

Fun Joel said...

I just saw this on Saturday night, and I felt much the same as you. Not bad, but certainly not great. I think I'll post more in depth about it later on on my blog.

But in short, there were major aspects that I didn't buy (especially the key point of murder -- I didn't believe he would really do it, and it thus seemed out of character). And I didn't really get the point of the whole darned thing.

Sorry you won't be able to make it on the 25th!

Warren said...

I liked it a lot, but I went into it thinking of it more in the Crimes & Misdemeaners, Interiors, Husbands & Wives way than Annie Hall and Purple Rose (two of my favorite films). Also, I'm a sucker for Scarlett J.

And Joel, isn't the point just that so much of what happens in our lives is goverened by sheer, dumb luck, no matter what we do?

Fun Joel said...

Well, Warren, if that is the point, it could have been explored more thoroughly throughout the film, rather than just in the climax, which I think was the main scene to make that point.

Plus, if that's the case, I find it interesting that it leads to a "positive" outcome for the main character. Makes a somewhat cynical approach, but also makes it seem as if the "luck" or chance in our lives is typically a good thing. But then muddles it with the darkness of the message.

Who knows? Maybe you're right. But it seems like a tough way to make that point.

Kira said...

Heh, anyone going into MATCH POINT expecting an Upper East Side comedy of manners would be surprised indeed. :)

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, which is definitely MATCH POINT's forebear, has a lot of wit among the drama and suspense. For that matter, so does Hitchcock, which MP also pays homage to, of course. To me, Allen's edge just seemed to have dulled on this one.