The Oscar Season is almost upon us, and while the nominations aren’t out yet, I figured Woody Allen’s thriller MATCH POINT was sure to get several nods, and so I thought I’d beat the rush and check it out.
I must admit up front I’m a Woody Allen man. I’ve seen as many of his films as I could get my hands on. I like his sense of humor, and even the creative misfires (as many of Woody’s films have been since the ‘80s) aren’t offensive to me the way so many bad movies are. I can still find moments of hilarity, or the gentile ironic humor among the sadness.
Some people are Woody Allen fans, or at least used to be. Some people don’t care one way or another, and some people hate his films; either for cause, or more likely because of the scandal that plagued his personal life, and they feel they’re making a moral judgment or something.
I bring all this up for a strange reason: you really need to forget this is a Woody Allen film. Forget everything you know about Woody—or think you know, and skip the previews if you can at all, as I believe the marketing geniuses once again give too much away.
About an hour into watching MATCH POINT, I realized something very odd: I had not laughed a single time. I always laugh in Woody Allen films. And yet, it wasn’t because the jokes were misfiring; it was because there were no jokes. None. Absolute seriousness.
Why does Woody do this? You’ll find out exactly ¾ of the way through the movie, when the film takes a hard (and I do mean hard) turn left. At that point your eyes will pop and you’ll either lift your imaginary glass, toasting the Wood Man for surprising you so effectively, or you’ll get mad and feel taken advantage of.
Briefly: the film centers around two outsiders (an Irish ex-tennis player and a struggling American actress) looking to join a rich upper crust aristocrat British family, via marriage. When you first meet these two (Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson), it’s clear what’s going on. What’s not clear is how calculated their intent is. (Well, to me it was clear, because I knew these people, but I’m guessing the average fellow doesn’t clue in right away.) Chris has hooked up with Chloe, and Lola already is engaged to Tom.
But it’s a movie, and as soon as Chris sees Lola, we enter a new round of complication, and competition.
Chris and Lola are not good people. But before you get them all in a bunch, Chloe and Tom aren’t winners either, and the rich parents have their faults too. In fact, everybody acts out of self-interest. I mean, we all do that, but there doesn’t seem to be too much human warmth to these people. (Although, at the same time they are not exactly evil, which makes it confusing as to who to root for.)
I guess self-interest is one of the themes of the movie. It’s easy to psychoanalyze, and say Woody does this because of his own life. (Indeed, if there is a theme constant in Woody Allen films, it is the heart wants what it wants, especially when it comes to relationships.) Again, are these characters (or Woody himself, for that matter) any different from us?
Hyperion’s Rating System
Suspension of Disbelief: 2 Pretty realistic, for the most part.
Genre Grade: Do we judge this as a Woody Allen film? By that score I’d say A-. But Woody makes a lot of different types of films (although none more different than this),and a better genre would be Romantic Thriller: again, A-.
Sex/Violence: A little. There is some language. Added up, there isn’t too much you might balk at a teen seeing, but these are sophisticated themes, and I would say adults only.
Asskickingness: Halfway through I would have said 23. A fine film, but no asses kicked from watching it. However, by the end I’d up that to 89. The ending makes all the difference, and makes you see everything that came before in such a different light.
If you liked….although I didn’t care for it, if you liked CLOSER, I think you’d love MATCH POINT.
Pantheon Percentile: I’m not sure how many times you could watch this. After all, you’ll only be shocked once. That said, I think repeated viewings would bring out the sly wit of the screenplay, with advance knowledge. I could see owning this. 88.
The other two themes worth mentioning are Luck and Opera. Chris tells us at the very beginning that luck is a big part of tennis. The ball hits the net cord, and can bounce over or fall back. Chris feels life is like that too. Only by the end do we truly understand what he means by this.
As for Opera, the movie is filled with it. As a Woody aficionado, I found this a strange departure from Allen’s usual jazz score, but again, by the end of the film, the opera soundtrack has taken on a whole new meaning.
Quickly, the acting is all great, including Scarlett Johansson, whom I had been begun to doubt. At first her performance here annoyed me, but I grew to see what was going on, and appreciate the direction the character was played. Speaking of directing, the camera work is flawless as usual. Woody Allen is genius at making
I don’t want to kid you: this is a movie that will piss some people off so much they won’t know what to do. But not me. I hate it when I know how a movie will go, even if I enjoy the execution. 12 minutes in I thought I knew where the film was headed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. Then ¾ the way in, like I said, I was buffaloed in surprise. A few minutes after that I knew how the film would end. And again I was wrong! It was such a nice feeling to continually be surprised.
Actually, MATCH POINT ended up one surprise after another. I can’t tell you if you’ll like it, but I surely did.