Friday, 25 June 2010

Flashback: Match Point

Woody Allen is a bit of anomaly himself. His work is always tinged with what seems like wild abandon while still retaining that obvious smidgen of self conscious that makes you aware that he’s very aware that you’re aware of all the little tics he’s giving his characters (in terms of dialogue). His attempts at being self-effacing work as much as they don’t and it’s probably why he’s most “suited” for comedy (though I’ve still to see a number of his important dramas). Match Point is every bit like that, and the fact that it’s protagonist and de facto female lead are consciously and deliberately using their words to trap us only make the film seem a little smug, but I like smug. Early on Chris asks Nola Rice, “What did I walk into?” After a sudden turn of events she replies almost immediately, “What did I into?” By this time, the audience is probably wondering the same thing and it’s too Woody’s credit (but not his alone) that we leave the film still uncertain of what we’ve just taken part in.
Match Point is not a rags-to-riches tale, though such a description could suffice for a time. Chris is a personable and ambitious young man who temps as a tennis trainer; he meets an affable rich girl and strikes up a romance and steadily climbs in her father’s company as he overcomes the troubles in their marriage. The end? Yes, but not the whole story. Nola Rice is a struggling actress and the girlfriend of Chris’ brother-in-law. She’s temperamental and American and nothing suitable for this British upper-class family. Like Chris she’s an outsider, unlike Chris she’s not that good of an actor. Unsurprisingly, they’re drawn to each other and their relationship turns Match Point into many things – a melodrama (perhaps), a fantasy (likely), a tragedy (to a point), a thriller (always), a whodunit drama (maybe, maybe not). But Match Point isn’t interested in being part of a genre. It is similarly like and unlike anything we’d usually see in the cinemas. It was moderately successful upon its release and months later its brilliance had waned (according to the public at least). It went from a potential Oscar dark horse, to a nominee for its screenplay – nothing more. Yet I’d list Match Point easily among the decade’s best. Woody’s writing is a staple; I sincerely believe there’s nothing that he cannot do. His writing is so good we tend to forget how adept he is at bringing out the best in his actors (see Wiest, Farrow, Tilly, Keaton), and if the house of Match Point is built on Woody’s words then the acting is everything else.
I have been a fan of Scarlett Johansson for a long time, before it was the cool thing and after it was the cool thing. I still consider her to be one of the best actresses in her age bracket. Her problem, like so many is realising her strengths. She is more resourceful than we realise (just look at the three performances Woody has led her to) but Nola Rice is the perfect creation for her. It’s the sort of woman we don’t know when to trust (if at all) and Johansson’s natural cadence works well even in moments where Woody almost falters (e.g. that coffee shop confession piece plays like a gem despite it’s script issues). What do I know? Maybe she is playing herself? But what the hell do I care when she’s playing it so excellently? She doesn’t have the shouting voice so Woody’s words let her get all those soft line readings in just beautifully. I wonder if erred on Wednesday in leaving her pairing with Jonathan Rhys Myers off the list of beautiful screen couples. When Woody has Chris say “Has anyone told you you have very sensual lips?” I can’t help rolling my eyes. Just look at them, for god’s sake. Ugh, they’re gorgeousness makes me sick.
Looking in from the outside Match Point’s payoff shouldn’t work, but I’d be the first to tell you that it does – excellently. Jonathan Rhys Myers is talented (even though I forget sometimes) he’s doing excellent work on The Tudors and with the exception of maybe Woody himself (and perhaps John Cusack) he’s my favourite Woody leading man. It’s not a popular choice, but each of Rhys Myers strange acting idiosyncrasies (his penetrating stare is a bit scary at times) works perfectly for Chris. The supporting cast don’t stand out as much as most Woody films, but Brian Cox and Emily Mortimer particularly are delights to watch, well as delightful as one can be in such a dryly humorous tale. Anyone who says Woody's heyday finished in the nineties is clearly not paying attention.
How was Match Point and its lead performances held up for you? Do you share my love?


TomS said...

Match Point was a terrific departure for Woody Allen.I loved it! It is fiendishly well-written, and he has directed his performers to believable, attractive performances.

True, it bore his personality in the style and the dialog. And it returned to the realm of moral uncertainty that he pondered in "Crimes and Misdemeanors".

Like many artists who paint the same subjects with different shadings, Allen revisits a core set of themes and uncovers something new each time.

I am so glad that you appreciate him and have written so thoughtfully about him and this film.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Check out "Vicky Christina Barcelona," too. As Woody's world-view expands to the physical, his adjustment of subject matter and personality increases seemingly exponentially. One of Penelope Cruz's best roles, too.

Mike Lippert said...

I love this film, although I don't think it's a Woody departure as Tom says, considering Crimes and Mistermeaners, but regardless, a trhiller based on the idea of life being up to pure luck of which side of the net the ball fall on is fasinating to me. Vicky Christina is also a great one as Yojimbo says as Woody congures the spirit of Eric Rohmer.

The one thing I may always remember about this film is how desperatly the ads tried to conceal that this was a Woody Allen movie.

CrazyCris said...

Loved it! Am a big Rhys-Meyers fan, and is one of the few movies I don't dislike ScarJo in! ;o)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tom s aye, aye on every thing you just said. not to play favourites but this is probably the most lucid review i've written in ages: finally!

yojimbo vicky cristina barcelona was in my top 5 of 08, such a subtle piece (and such a completely different scarlett)

mike i'm too lazy to google it, but i vaguely remember crimes...was alan alda in that?

cris scarlett dissenter. tsk tsk.

DEZMOND said...

It's widely known that I can't stand Woody Allen but MATCHPOINT was really a great movie, probably because it's so different from Woody's other films, thanks to the dynamic plot, stunning twists and off course the amazing Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is just great in roles such as this one.

Oh, and I believe amazing Matthew Goode is in it as well :)