Reviews

Match Point (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Chris is fond of Enrico Caruso, whose voice 'expresses everything that's tragic about life,' one of these Allenish aphorisms that's probably true but just sounds trite.


Match Point

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: DreamWorks
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-12-28 (Limited release)

"What I am is sexy." When aspiring actor Nola (Scarlett Johansson) makes this observation over drinks with Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), he's briefly taken aback. After all, he's just told her she's beautiful, and she didn't bite. And then he gets it (or so he thinks): "So," Chris says, "You are aware of your effect on men."


She is so aware, of course, because she's a woman in a Woody Allen movie. This one, Match Point, is set in London rather than New York, and its murder plot unfolds more slowly than those in his comedies, but its thematic focus is unmistakable. Chris, the emblematic (or is that symptomatic?) male, is bewildered by women, in particular by the vivacious, sensuous, and initially radiant Nola. This even as he's engaged to be married to Chloe Wilton (Emily Mortimer), a bossy if occasionally sweet heiress, and Nola is dating Chloe's brother Tom (Matthew Goode).

If the siblings are blandly self-absorbed and pleasantly ignorant, owing to their old money, the outsiders want in. While Nola's an American seeking legitimacy (or something) in England, Chris is an Irish tennis pro whose voiceover meditation on luck opens the film: as a tennis ball bops back and forth over a net in slow motion, he notes that it might go either way: "With a little bit of luck, it goes forward and you win, or it doesn't and you lose." With that, you learn that he's given up the pro tour in order to work at a club. It's not exactly what he planned, but it's a way to stay in London and hobnob with hoity-toity types.

Chris and Nola meet after they've both established footholds in this wifty wealthy world: she challenges him to table tennis and he puts her down with a single return. "What have I walked into"?" they ask one another, eyes wide and appraising. Understanding their limits as other-people's-afficanceds, they bond over their similarly unhappy childhoods and imagine money will make their lives better. If it's old British money, accompanied by country estates and evenings at the opera, so much the better. This desire for a shift in class, of course, puts a damper on their own relationship, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and Chris devises ways to have his cake and eat it too.

This plot makes him resemble any number of famous social climbers, Tom Ripley and Clyde Griffiths (An American Tragedy) among them. Chris' ostensibly shallow pondering of his options is rendered in warm-toned close-ups. Though his face grows harder, less plainly interested in the people he's manipulating, his self-concern becomes visible: in brief, gaping-mouthed moments, in a pallor that won't quit. Chloe's father Alec (Brian Cox) takes a liking to Chris, affirming, "He's not trivial. We had a very interesting conversation about Dostoevsky." (Chris also nurtures a fondness for Enrico Caruso, whose voice, he tells Chloe, "expresses everything that's tragic about life," one of these Allenish aphorisms that's probably true but just sounds trite.)

At the same time, Chloe's mother, Eleanor (Penelope Wilton), conveniently and blatantly disparages Nola, whose acting career never takes off, owing to her lack of confidence (at least this is her story; her failed auditions occur off screen). Mummy's disapproval ("Especially for a woman, it's a particularly cruel business," she sniffs about the acting, "I'm a great one for facing up to realities") underlies Tom's own evolving diffidence; he's a good upper-crusty boy, despite his pretended rebelliousness.

Eventually, Tom's lack of spine leaves Nola bitter enough to take up with Chris, who pursues her with something resembling passion, though it's hard to tell quite what he wants. Their romance begins with a lively, rain-soaked tryst in a field near the Wiltons' country estate, where both Nola and Chris' shirts cling prettily, if briefly, to their perfect torsos. But within days, Nola makes it clear that her interest was superficial, and her rejection (declared most loudly during a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Woman in White, some weird punctuation) leads more or less directly to Chris' decisions to commit to a career with Alec's company and fancy church wedding with Chloe.

Chris' slide into this standard soul-sucking vortex is not especially affecting. His grasping is immature and unconvincing (though Rhys-Meyers is fine in the role), eventually annoying. It's also predictable from frame one, so the film is not so much tracing a character development as it is going through the motions of a cliché. During one moment of extreme crisis, he cries, briefly, then persists with his badly conceived, wholly dependent-on-luck plan.

To be fair, Chris' thudding caddishness, so perfunctory and lacking in conscience or compassion, makes his appeal to Chloe, who otherwise seems self-confident to a fault, seem a bit strange. Perhaps she can't imagine anyone would be so callous. Or maybe, as the film lays on thickly, she's preoccupied with having a baby, that recurrent bane of Allen's women. Chris' resentment of her presumption and privilege is made visible in scenes that showcase her wealth and his passivity, as when they walk through the fabulous South Bank loft she has selected: stepping onto the ledge of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the Thames, Chris shudders, noting his fear of heights. Ah, smiles Chloe, it's something he'll have to get over.

Once Tom marries a new girl (pregnant as soon as he mentions her), Nola and Chris' relationship becomes more urgent: they meet in her teensy Shepherd's Bush flat, where Chris feels large: the camera pans the space to show its clutter, he rips at her blouse. They make dates in breathless bits of conversation on their mobiles, their desire couched in terms at once sophisticated and dishonest, thrilling and juvenile. Chris is right where he wants to be, and he's feeling claustrophobic: his office space, his opera box, his home, even his planned Greek islands vacation are all functions of his wife's money and history. Because he's the indecisive, unhappy, inarticulate protagonist in a Woody Allen movie, you can pretty much guess what happens next.

Beset by insatiable yearnings, Chris can't be honest or loyal. His frustration is framed by the women around him, all nattering on about babies: Tom and his wife talk about their infant, Eleanor presses for more grandchildren, Chloe's taking her temperature each morning, and the increasingly needy Nola brings yet another sort of pressure to bear. Though Chris begins by asserting his faith in luck (or at least his assertion that he'd rather be lucky than good), he ends up adrift and haunted, without any "measure of hope for the possibility of meaning." Maybe it's just luck that the women around him -- irrational, demanding, and voluble -- come to represent that lack.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image