' Cinema Romantico: Match Point

Monday, January 23, 2006

Match Point

I’ve heard a lot of critics compare Woody Allen’s latest to an earlier effort of his – “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But I don’t see it. I would compare “Match Point” more to a 1940’s-type crime melodrama. And as that, it works very well.

The above being said, it’s not terribly inventive. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a former tennis pro reduced to giving lessons at the club – albeit an exclusive and prestigious club. He bonds with a student and states he doesn’t just want to teach tennis. He wants to make a “contribution”. This contribution manifests itself as marrying the student’s sister but having an affair with the student’s fiancé. You can probably guess where it goes from there, but that’s sort of the point. Guy marries girl for money – guy has affair with femme fatale – guy has to cover up affair to keep money. But it’s all done with a throwback style few directors of this day and age could manage.

Woody Allen has long been known as a great writer of dialogue but this gift has rarely been on display in his more recent movies. It’s not necessary well-crafted lines, it’s allowing everyone to speak in his or her own distinctive voice. Jonathan Rhys Meyers oozes the charm necessary to get where he does during the course of the film. His wife is the type of person who says immediately after their wedding, “I want a baby.” The mother is type of person who makes obvious criticisms and then is confused as to why everyone finds them obvious and critical. The father is the type of person who tells his wife upon realizing she has had too much to drink, “You’ve had a few too many G and T’s.” Scarlett Johannson speaks like, well, a femme fatale from a 1940’s melodrama. There's nothing more refreshing to me than a movie willing to pay attention to how its characters would talk.

It’s also important to note the lack of a Woody surrogate (a la John Cusack in “Bullets Over Broadway” or Will Ferrell in the recent misfire “Melinda and Melinda”). There’s no neurotic guy kvetching endlessly about romantic travails or the meaning of life. It’s all a bunch of not-very-nice people doing some not-very-nice things.

The opening voice-over states that our main character would rather be "lucky than good". This is accompanied by the ominous shot of a tennis ball striking the very top of a tennis net and the ball shooting straight up in the air. The shot freezes, not letting us know which way the ball went. This shot is coupled with a shot later of a gold ring in a similar situation with a railing alongside a river substituting for the tennis net. I laughed out loud at this. (To be fair, the couple sitting beside me also laughed. I loved this couple. They got the movie, too. We all laughed at the same things while the rest of the theater stayed quiet. I wanted to shake their hands during the credits but my introversion nixed this idea.) It struck me so much as something that would have happened in an old movie. In this day and age these two scenes seem ludicrous but an audience from "yesteryear" would have bought it without flinching. And that's why I loved it so.

This movie proves that the Woodman may still have a few more tricks up his sleeve.

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