"Match Point"
Dir: Woody Allen

Patricia Ducey

Polls show that 85 percent of the time, people go to movies to laugh. The other 15 percent of the time, I’d wager, they go to watch rich people suffer--and Woody Allen’s latest, Match Point, set amidst the verdant country estates and urban cultural playgrounds of the very British and very rich scratches that schadenfreude-ian itch. Match Point is really an old-fashioned morality tale, the spiritual successor to films such as A Place in the Sun (1951), adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, both cautionary tales for any lad who aspires, or conspires, to enhance his station in life through duplicitous means such as ‘marrying up’.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as tennis pro Chris Wilton and Scarlett Johansson as wannabe actress Nola Ric play the outsiders who wangle their way into the upper strata of society via the ultra-rich Hewet family. Chris glosses over his lower class Irish upbringing to win over his student Tom Hewet and to bag his sister Chloe as rung-on-the-ladder trophy wife, while Nola uses her aberrant family back in the U.S. as fodder for her alluring, hyper-sexual persona that—only temporarily, alas—ensnares scion and all around good guy Tom. But the Hewets welcome Chris and Nola into the bosom of their warm, sheltering family, if only barely over the suspicions of Mother Hewet, whose doubts about Nola and her “type” are dismissed by Papa Hewet as the effects of one too many gin and tonics. Chris and Nola eventually meet and, whether the fault of breeding or upbringing—fall into a sexual affair that soon borders on the obsessive.

Rhys-Meyers is miscast as a rough-hewn counterpoint to Hewets’ witty urbanity. His slight build and brooding indecision telegraph more a Hamlet than the grasping parvenu necessary. He seems to be an aristo acting the Irish ploughman instead of the other way around, quite in control of his working class accent, which he only let slips once, as well as his appetites, so his later loss of control over Nola does not compute. The development of Chris’ character, the focus of the piece, seems sketchy and incomplete. Johanansson is very good at being very bad, and the rest of the cast are marvelous. We truly like the family Hewet, erudite and loving in spite of their huge riches—which they do not flaunt, by the way, bestowing their largesse on worthy causes. The dialogue, though, is a bid leaden; at times we feel as though we are trapped in a Masterpiece Theater rendition of a fusty English detective yarn.

Allen’s movies sometimes do tend to be tone poems. What was the plot of Annie Hall, anyway, or Manhattan? It does not much matter, as they were delicious to watch. Match Point, though is story, story, story. And, like Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) the inciting incident that propels this narrative is adultery and its consequences. One cannot help but note Woody Allen’s notorious private life: the affairs with one woman and at the same time with her adopted daughter, the later marriage to the daughter. I will not insert a spoiler here, but Allen’s Chris Wilton pores over his Dostoevsky novels in his spare time, while La Traviata, an operatic exploration of fallen women and their woeful men, serves as soundtrack; in Match Point, the moral minefield of illicit love and sex ignites once more, with satisfying results for almost all.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2006

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