Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Game, Set...

Film: Match Point
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I tend to like Woody Allen’s movies. I realize that I like some a lot and I like some a little, but in general, his movies really work for me. I go into a Woody Allen movie more or less expecting a certain thing or a certain set of things. If it’s an early comedy, I expect a lot of wacky stuff happening. If it’s a later comedy, I expect it to center a lot more on sex and various neuroses. If it’s a drama, I expect a much more serious look at those neuroses. And then there’s Match Point, which is a Woody Allen film in terms of the general story, but a very un-Woody Allen film in the way it develops.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former professional tennis player who has retired, realizing that he’ll never be one of the game’s greats. He takes a job at a London tennis club where he meets the wealthy Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). The two bond over a love of opera more than a mutual respect for the game of tennis. The friendship blossoms more when Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) develops more than a passing interest in Chris. Unfortunately for all involved, Chris also takes more than a passing interest in Nola (Scarlett Johansson), an American actress who happens to be engaged to Tom.

While Tom’s father Alec (Brian Cox) seems to be okay with his son being engaged to an American actress, his mother Eleanor (Penelope Wilton) is against the match. Eventually Chris is roped into marriage with Chloe. Tom and Nola break up and Nola leaves London. In the back of his mind, though, Chris can’t seem to shake the thought that he might be a lot happier with Nola, especially after their one tryst in a field during a rainstorm.

And then, with Tom married and Chris married, Nola suddenly reappears. Chris pursues her actively, wanting to have an affair with her. This is despite the fact that he has now given up tennis completely and is working at an executive position in one of this father-in-law’s companies. This is also despite the fact that Chloe is desperate to have a child. Everything Chris has at this point is due to Chloe and her family. But he can’t seem to resist wanting to be with Nola, and soon enough, the two are spending afternoons together and Chris is making excuses for needing to leave the office. In a fun bit of irony, Chloe still can’t get pregnant, but Nola is pregnant soon enough and demanding that Chris divorce his wife to be with her.

All of this is pretty standard Woody Allen stuff, right? Someone in a relationship and wanting to be with somebody else and jumping through a lot of hoops so that he can live the life he wants in every aspect he wants. And then this problem of Nola’s pregnancy crops up and suddenly Chris is lying to everyone and is desperately looking for a way out. And this is where Match Point takes a very dark turn. I won’t go into what happens in the third act, because it’s something best experienced by a viewer cold.

What strikes me more than anything here is how much this ultimately feels like a film that wasn’t made by Woody Allen. It’s a huge departure from what he normally does in a lot of ways. What’s equally notable here is that it works. Match Point is a lot angrier than a lot of Allen’s films, a lot more desperate in many ways, and it’s something that works. It’s a good indication of just how good a filmmaker Woody Allen is when he’s working on all cylinders. He’s capable of making films that are screamingly funny and films that are tender and poignant. And here he demonstrates that he can make very dark films that don’t play with the funny side of neuroses, but with some of the very dark passions that can move people.

It is the story that’s the strongest here. The cast is good, generally speaking, but not incredibly notable in terms of the film. Jonathan Rhys Meyers actually comes off a bit bland here, someone who doesn’t really seem capable of stirring such strong passions in a pair of women. Scarlett Johannson is good, but she usually is, and the two of them are really the bulk of the movie. Brian Cox is underused throughout, but in all fairness, that’s generally my complaint about Brian Cox in general. He should be in more films and have bigger roles.

I’m not sure I’d like a steady diet of Match Point, either in general or from Woody Allen. I typically like Allen’s comedies a lot more than anything else he does because I tend to like where he takes his comedy. His dramas tend to be heartfelt and real. But this is real too in its own way. It’s good. It’s really good. But I’d rather Woody stick with what Woody does best in general.

Why to watch Match Point: Woody Allen going strangely dark.
Why not to watch: Not sure how satisfying that ending really is.


  1. I sometimes think it's the best movie he made after about 1990.

  2. I rather liked Mighty Aphrodite and Blue Jasmine, although the latter of these isn't one I'd want to revisit any time soon.

  3. This is a very good film from him simply because it is so different from anything else he's done and he was able to achieve that without it feeling like he's trying to be different. What helps to make it unique in his canon is the absence of anyone who could be seen as his surrogate. Even in a one of his better films like Blue Jasmine that seem to veer away from his formula their is at least one neurotic character, in that case Jasmine, but Match Point is devoid of that voice.

    As you said it isn't standard Woody fare and not something I would expect him to try to replicate too often but it's great to see he is a large enough talent that he can attempt different things and succeed with them.

    If I remember correctly this was his first film outside of New York and I think the change of locale re-energized him at a point where he had fallen into something of a rut with a series of indifferent films.

    1. The change of venue is pretty interesting. But really, it's how different the film is from his normal fare that I find the most impressive. Filmmakes get so locked into a style that everything they do feels the same. This starts out a lot like a Woody Allen film, but it really doesn't finish like one. As you say, that's evident of just how talented he really is.

      Even Hitchcock only did a couple of movies over and over.

      It's also the same reason I'm such a fan of Billy Wilder.

  4. I rate Match Point VERY highly, top 25 of all-time. True enough Allen has done infidelity a few times. The way it was presented here was truly engrossing to me. Even Jonathan Rhys Meyers unemotional acting works in the context of the story for me, because he plays a character who is a little cold and distant. His performance in the last 15 min impressed me.

    1. I wouldn't put this top-25, but I liked it pretty well. Again, the most impressive thing for me is just how good it actually is and just how different it is from most of what Allen does. He defies expectations here, and still does it beautifully, and that's impressive.

  5. This is the movie I show people who say they hate Woody Allen Movies This and Bullets over Broadway

    1. My favorite Allen screenplay is Radio Days. I'd toss that one in as well, because it's the non-Christmas version of A Christmas Story.