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MATCH POINT (review)

MATCH POINT
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode and Emily Mortimer

The ladies who saved my seat at the nearly sold-out screening of MATCH POINT I attended, were having the same conversation probably everyone in the audience has had at one point in time before buying their ticket for the evening’s final showing.

“I know,” the lady furthest to my right exclaimed. “My boyfriend and I were watching the preview and then it was, like, ‘This is a Woody Allen film.’ It didn’t look anything like that.”

“I know,” the closer lady returned. “It looks really good.”

This leads me to two major points of contention when it comes to addressing MATCH POINT. First, the previews look like a drastic departure from Allen’s previous outings. It looks smooth, glossy, and conventional even. The other point refers to the widely established opinion of the movie-going public that it has been ages since Allen made a good movie. From two points, stem two questions. Is it really that different? And is it really any good?

Allen has been making movies for just over forty years so it seems reasonable to wonder just how much of a departure MATCH POINT really could be from a director whose neurotic mistrust of love and life looms over most of his offerings. Even as he gets on in years and no longer takes on the lead acting responsibilities, cutting down to merely writing and directing one film a year on average, the ghost of the Woody Allen caricature finds its way into his pictures (see Jason Biggs in ANYTHING ELSE or Will Ferrell in MELINDA AND MELINDA.) The lead here, tennis pro turned instructor, Chris Wilton, is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. We meet him after Allen’s classic plain white text on black background opening credits, interviewing for a job and looking for a London flat. The young lad worked his way out of a poor Irish background into the pro-tennis circuit before retiring for a more stable life, where he could appreciate the finer things life had to offer, like opera and art. In opposition to past leads, he is well put together, focused. He has his eye on the ball, if you will. This is not to say he has everything figured out or is without fear. He knows he wants to do something of value with his life, isn’t clear on what exactly that is, but also does not let hesitation paralyze him. Upon meeting Chloe Hewett (the glowing Emily Mortimer), Chris’ biggest similarity to the Woody Allen archetype becomes apparent. Despite all his efforts and subsequent accomplishments, he is a pessimist. He may appreciate the finer things but his belief is the finest things are those capable of capturing and communicating everything that is tragic about life. Can a pessimist truly know love? Allen seems to think yes, at least at first. Chloe is an eternal optimist who has never known anything tragic about life and despite their differences, they fall in love while walking around London, which Allen frames like postcards in much the same way he has framed Manhattan for years.

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Allen has a strong handle on the visual direction, allowing characters to walk in and out of the frame when we would expect them to. There are no surprises, just a natural direction, suggesting that Allen knows exactly what we will want to see as we watch from behind bushes or fences. More importantly, he has an even stronger control on this, his finest screenplay since 1992’s HUSBANDS AND WIVES. MATCHPOINT is ultimately about luck, how little importance we place on luck despite the significant role it plays in our lives, and how far we’re willing to push our own luck. Chris, a devout believer in the influence luck has on his life, decides to close his eyes and hope for the best when he embarks on an affair with Nola Rice (Scarlet Johansson), his soon-to-be brother-in-law’s fiancée. The two gravitate towards each other, pulled by an uncontrollable sexual desire. Separately, they each represent opposite ends of the luck spectrum. Chris is still riding his lucky streak, scoring his tennis instructor job, meeting Chloe, getting a job at one of her father’s business firms. Whereas Nola is still trying to escape her streak of bad luck, running away from her dead-end Colorado home, struggling to make it as an actress and eventually losing her fiancé, Tom (Matthew Goode). The question then is how much better is Chris’ luck when all the successes he stumbles upon are not what he wants but what he believes he should want?

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Further strengthening Allen’s script, is the issue of class woven in and out of the entire film. Both Chris and Nola come from modest backgrounds at best and are dating members of London’s higher society. Tom and Chloe are happy, high-spirited people with all the time in the world to pursue their interests – opera, tennis, opening an art gallery. Chris and Nola have been working their whole lives to get where they are, with Nola finding she still has a great deal of work ahead of her and uncertain she has it in her to get there. For Tom and Chloe, there is no flipside to the coin and new opportunities arise all the time. They’ve always been lucky and what makes them descent is at least they can each acknowledge their fortunate existence. Nola has yet to truly know luck and lack of enthusiasm in her speech shows how little faith she has in potentially finding it. But it is the taste of a fortunate man’s life that is new to Chris Wilton. He has a driver now and his new flat no longer has a fold out sofa bed and has one of the most spectacular views of London available. So when his affair with Nola begins to threaten his newfound cushion of a life, he is forced to make a decision for the first time instead of leaving everything to chance. This decision brings about a tension and discomfort that is so rarely achieved in filmmaking today. Allen manages to blindside his audience without using it as a gimmick or relying on twists to give the film its ultimate meaning.

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Be it lucky in life or unlucky in love, Allen serves up a film about the game itself. We may all think that we have control, that we hold the power over our lives or that we are making the decisions that will move us forward. What Allen wants to remind us is that, like a game, we don’t get to make any of these decisions until it’s our turn to serve and we certainly don’t know what our opponents will do next, despite how well we think we know their game.

4.5 sheep

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give Match Point?

One Comment

  1. good work!!
    i’m going to go see this movie….although, i’m also a fan of his older, more unconventional work.
    love,
    lydia

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