Match Point

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When it came out, Match Point was touted as a return to form for Woody Allen. It was meant to be one of his best films. Instead it’s something of a disappointment, mostly because the two main stars perform so badly. Time after time amateurish acting spoils a possibly good scene. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson are completely out of their depth.

The worst scenes occur towards the end when the fiendish Meyers concocts a plan to kill his lover. They spend ages talking and arguing, and over and over again Scarlett, who’s pregnant, tries to get Myers to leave his wife. But all Scarlett does is walk around, drinking and popping pills as she shrilly berates her beau, and Myers just tugs his hair and shouts. It’s like a school play – the quality of acting is that poor.

But you have to wonder what Meyers sees in the woman. Yes she’s physically attractive, but her character is spoiled, selfish and whiny. Therefore I celebrated her murder at the hands of Meyers like he’d won Wimbledon. She really did deserve to be put out of her misery, screeching like a harridan at every moment and falling for Meyers’ lies.

I was just annoyed that Meyers didn’t kill his wife as well, as she was just as bad, if not worse, than Scarlett. Played by Emily Mortimer she’s a silly little rich girl who gets besotted by the handsome ex-tennis pro and is then arranging his life for him within a few minutes. She introduces him to her rich father, gets him a good job and tells him she wants a child. Meyers’ life is being taken away from him. It’s no longer his own. His wife is calling the shots.

But although at first Mortimer seems nice, she turns out to be just as manipulative as Scarlett and Meyers. There’s one scene where she’s talking with her friends about the holiday they’re all going on, and then she mentions that she once gave Meyers an ancient Greek fertility charm and put it under his pillow for two months but that she still isn’t pregnant. It’s a subtle humiliation, one with a smile. And earlier Mortimer makes fun of Meyers when he orders modestly at a restaurant and then jokingly refers to his poor upbringing. She’s not meant to be taking the piss, but she is. And then even earlier she condescendingly says that her father is proud of the way he dragged himself up against the odds, meaning that they’re indirectly calling him gutter-trash. Therefore you can’t blame Meyers for seeking solace in someone else’s arms.

But unfortunately Meyers’ misery is everlasting. He kills Scarlett and gets away with the crime, but as if this emotional torment isn’t enough, he finally has a child with his wife and there’s talk of having another. He’s buried himself even deeper in his own private hell. An escape is even less likely, tied as he is to the money and comfort of his torpid lifestyle.

And of course its ironic that this good luck of getting away with the crime means that Meyers has plunged himself even deeper into his misery. Consequently you know that the opening and ending adage that its better to be lucky than good is complete baloney. Being lucky has done nothing for this person. It’s just made his existence even more painful and depressing.

With all these themes running through the film and with all this meat to chew on, you’d think the film would be a pleasurable experience. But like I mentioned at the beginning, the poor acting spoils things. Apart from Meyers and Johansson, who are consistently disappointing, there are also the two cops at the end. They never convince. Although some of the blame should also be apportioned to the writing. The dialogue between the detectives is consistently hokey and there’s even a moment where one of them sits up in his bed and proclaims to himself that he knows who did it. The corniness of it is overwhelming. I can’t believe anyone in real life does that.

Allen is much better at writing the idle banter of the rich. The characters here have nothing to contribute to the world. They’re all selfish. They’re all scum. And in a lot of scenes there’s an upper class desperation that rings true. But because the acting from the two leads is so bad it’s hard to get swept away by the film. I certainly don’t need to like characters in order to enjoy a movie, but they need to be able to convince me that they exist in some alternate reality. Here, though, I was consistently pulled out of the film.

An example of this is during the murder sequence. Meyers is skulking away in a stairwell and he hears a couple approaching. Fearing exposure, he hides in a corner. But watch his face. He suddenly pulls an incredibly camp expression. In that moment he looks like Kenneth Williams.

And then you have the first encounter between Scarlett and Meyers. Scarlett’s attempt at being sexy is to just pout and stare. There’s little else going on behind the eyes. She fails to inhabit the skin of a character. Instead she just seems to be going through the motions.

But even though Allen is crippled by his actors, he still manages to make the film reasonably enjoyable. It’s nowhere near his best but it’s certainly not among his worst. And there’s also the novelty value of Allen filming in London. He has a bit of a tourist’s eye and the characters live lifestyles that often seem beyond them – even if you do have loads of money, how much would it cost to have an apartment overlooking Parliament? – but it’s good to see Allen try and stretch himself. He doesn’t quite succeed, but with Meyers and Johansson cast in the central roles, I guess luck wasn’t quite with him.

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