Stewart’s Eccentricity Barely Keeps “Match” Lit
Groomed and primmed ballet dancers create arches and points which are lauded and corrected by their instructor, kept sharp by his knowledge and dedication to the craft. The bustling bright city of New York as its backdrop, the liveliness of the city is matched only by its protagonist. Introduced at the beginning is a sense of high regard and careful perception which can only be achieved by a writer who like, Tobi, understands his or her own craft to the point where it becomes not just their livelihood but their life. Writer/director Stephen Belber’s start stems from theatre with plays such as Tape (which had its film adaptation directed by Richard Linklater) and The Laramie Project (in which he shares credit with multiple people) and a half dozen years after his film debut in Jennifer Aniston starring Management, he proves to clearly be a wordsmith as evidenced in Match though ultimately, it relies too greatly in what it believes to be its cleverness.
Tobias, who goes by Tobi, played by the ineffable Patrick Stewart, is an eccentric dance teacher at Juilliard. With an impressive repertoire and as a long-standing icon of the dance scene, he is approached by Lisa (Carla Gugino) and her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard) who seek his voice in a dissertation concerning the dance community and era during the evolving 1960s. Though pleased with his hermetic lifestyle, Tobi embraces their curiosity, even inviting them into his home where the couple reveals that they are not who they say they are. This revelation spurs a chain of explosive events and conflicts between the group.
Stewart delights as a kooky hermit who enjoys knitting, an occasional dabbling of marijuana , and weaving tales of his past. His wistful exclamation of “God, I used to love to perform cunninlingus,” is just an example of his colorful character. There is a brightness that Stewart encapsulates well though at times his dialogue can feel underhanded as if it were competing for the spotlight. And although there is a poignant moment with Tobi and Lisa as he shows her his knitting projects, there is an underlying desire to understand his character beyond his splashy lines, which is left for the most part, unmet. The same goes for Lisa and Mike whose actions seem to play out simply for the showmanship of the piece. The drama boils over a little too late with minimal effect and its twists uninspired to say the least. Though Tobi adds a much-needed spark to the story, it is a disproportionate for him to be held responsible for the weight of the film, much less left alone to carry it.
Match accomplishes what others should consider–which is to create a strong minimal cast who can create and sustain conflict between themselves. In such an intimate setting and dynamic, this conflict could play out much better as a piece of theatre (the lines of dialogue sure exude a theatrical impression). However, there is still a fundamental struggle within the film to convey and move past its conventions. Take away Stewart’s unreserved word choice and cavalier approach to sex and there isn’t much to sustain a prolonged situation. Match never seems to breathe on its own but feels handicapped as if restrained by the writer writing, the pen held captive to the page and its conventions.