Match ought to appeal to students of acting and drama. The only element it’s missing is Spectacle. If you don’t mind watching a filmed play, you may have found your Match.
Looking Back on Life
R for language, sexual dialogue and some drug use
There are important revelations at about one-third and two-thirds of the way through, so consider any plot summary — including this one — to contain spoilers.
Patrick Stewart, looking his age, which is 74 (already?), plays a New York ballet instructor named Tobias. He exudes giddy anticipation as he sits down to await an important meeting. In his excitement he lacks that last social filter that stops us from saying everything that crosses our minds.
Finally his colleagues arrive, a young woman named Christina and her husband Mike (Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard). They are not New Yorkers (you can tell), but Seattleites. Christina is an academic doing some research on Tobi’s career, which stretches back to Juilliard by way of the Venezuelan national ballet.
No wonder Tobi is giddy; he’s getting recognition for his life’s work. A young woman is taking a genuine interest in his life and writing it all down for posterity.
The first spoiler comes after 25 minutes: back at Tobi’s apartment Mike begins to speak up, steering Christina’s questions toward Tobi’s freewheeling sex life in the 1960s. Clearly Mike’s interest is more than academic, and given Mike’s age, we can predict why he wants to know who Tobi might have had sex with back around the time he must have been born.
Most of the film remains including many more developments, but I won’t reveal them here; this should be enough to give you a taste.
An Actor’s Movie
Each of the three primary characters has a strong arc, and each actor gets a meaty role.
Patrick Stewart stands out with a bristly, heart-on-sleeve performance. After the first development he moves from giddy to outraged, sarcastic, and insulting. it takes him a long while to show anything gentle and to let his defenses dow. By the end he’s a different man, not nearly so confident as he was at first.
Carla Gugino mediates between Mike and Tobi. At first she seems nice, maybe bland. Gugino doesn’t get much to do until the middle act when she shares along scene alone with Stewart. She’s not a pushover, nor an enabler, as we might have thought at first, but she can be fragile and sensitive.
It might be easy to say that Lillard’s performance is the least of the three, but I think that’s not right. He’s the character most out of place in the setting — Tobi’s New York apartment. Mike is a more conservative character, a police officer suspended for excessive use of force. He is uncomfortable with homosexuality and Tobi’s libertine lifestyle. Like a lot of American men, Mike is not expressive, except in anger, threats, and physical dominance. Lillard gives a good performance of a character you wouldn’t think requires one.
Writer/director Stephen Belber writes more than just good characters. There is the awkward Howard-Hughes-like quirk of Tobi’s that resonates with the themes of biological ties and the desire for a legacy. There is Tobi’s philosophy about dance, and how the body can change the mind. And Mike’s sharp contrast works well too — he explains what he likes about his job, which is the opposite of what Tobi was looking for when he left home.
Still, Match is not very cinematic. The story essentially takes place in one location. Belber gratuitously adds a small handful of secondary locations but they don’t do anything to make the film feel any more open. That lack of cinematic spectacle will probably limit the appeal of Match to students of acting and drama.