Match Point (2005)
As some of my readers will know, especially those based in the UK, last Sunday was the men’s final of the Wimbledon Championships 2017, the oldest and, certainly, most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. This got me thinking about films which reference tennis, and I decided to review Woody Allen’s “Match Point“. In this film, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), an ex tennis pro, comes from humble background, but slowly makes his way to the society’s upper class by dating and then marrying the sister of one of his students at a posh tennis club in London. However, this is all far from being a plain-sailing feat for Chris, because along the way he gets entangled with a seeming femme fatale and a starting actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), who may as well bring his undoing. If I did not know that this was Woody Allen’s film, I would never have guessed. This film not only plays like a dull TV soap opera for most of its time, it is also filled with pretensions and clichés regarding the lives of upper classes in London; has a list of totally unlikable characters; and is devoid of humour.
The film starts with philosophical musings on luck, and how, sometimes, it is essential to winning a point, and, perhaps, ultimately, a match in tennis. Our main character, Chris, lands a job being a tennis instructor at a tennis club in London, and befriends one of his students, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who then introduces him to his family and friends, the crème de la crème of London’s society. Almost immediately, Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), notices Chris, and soon the two are dating. However, Tom also has a girlfriend, an American aspiring actress, Nola, and it becomes clear that Chris is also smitten by this woman. Although Allen here focuses on the same societal interplay and connections between different sets of couples, as is often the case with his other interesting films (“Blue Jasmine” (2013)), the first hour and twenty minutes of “Match Point” could as well be missed. In this period of time, the movie’s story goes on and on about the unlikely quartet: Chris’s tense relationship with both Chloe and Nola, and his friendship Tom. There are useless dialogues concerning finance, Chris’s new high-paid job, and the inability of Chloe to conceive a child. All this plays like a second-hand melodrama, maybe to be watched once, but be forgotten the next second. Even the so-called “soap operas” on day TV possess greater realism, and usually establish more convincing and emotional relationships between their characters.
After one hour and twenty minutes, the story finally gets interesting, largely because Allen decides to “spice things up” and begins to explore moral dilemmas with a hint of suspense. However, at this point, the story soon slides into the sphere of pure fantasy, and the final fifteen minutes of the film feel like it is a completely different movie. The film thinks it is clever at the end, because it has the so-called “thought-provoking” ending (undoubtedly, Allen wanted his own unpredictable ending after seeing such films as “Fight Club” (1999) and “The Sixth Sense” (1999), which had “fashionable” at that time “twist” endings). However, the so-called “intelligence” of the film at the end is nothing but the audience’s manipulation, complete mess and disappointment. Near the film’s end, it becomes clear that the story is not based on the idea of “luck”, but on the idea of “total improbability”. The chances that events could have happened the way they were described in the film are zero (too many different variables and “ifs” are involved), ruling out any references to “luck”, and making the story totally unconvincing and disappointing, especially from the legal point of view. This also means that the film’s comments on “luck”, Dostoevsky and the philosophy behind life opportunities are never convincing, and, apart from annoyance, the audience gets very little from the lecture on “luck” in the film.
It does not also help that none of the characters are likeable in this film. Rhys-Meyers, playing Chris, comes off as arrogant, selfish and deceitful, and the bad casting of Rhys-Meyers really contributes to this film being so weak generally. Allen could not even make of him the anti-hero, the “evil” protagonist the audience love to watch in Patricia Highsmith novel adaptations, such as Mr Tom Ripley. In “Match Point”, Chris is never sympathetic or interesting, let alone appealing in any way. Moreover, Rhys-Meyers’s acting is quite terrible most of the time. He delivers his lines in a deadpan manner, making for an unconvincing performance. His co-star Matthew Goode, in the role of Tom, is not much better, coming off nearly as arrogant, nasty and double-faced as Chris, but at least such stereotypical behaviour of his character is excusable here, because he did not have a “humble” upbringing in the film.
As for Scarlett Johansson (who also appears in Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (2008)), she brings that something which makes “Match Point” watchable. She gives a good performance as an aspiring actress whose career aspirations slowly sink, and who has to rely on her immediate entourage for assistance and moral support. “What is a beautiful young American…doing mingling among the British upper class?”, asks Chris of Nola in the movie, and the audience may as well ask what such a top-rated actress as Johansson, who performs so well here, is doing in a lousy film like this? Johansson’s casting looks as random as the final thirty or so minutes of the movie, and if that were not a Woody Allen movie, her casting would have been virtually inexplicable here. However, at least the character of Nola Rice is intriguing. She is both sexually irresistible and powerful, and vulnerable and damaged, and it makes sense that the two “outsiders” of London’s high society get together and become linked, i.e., Chris and Nola.
Allen makes excellent use of location and the audience gets to see such London sights as Big Ben, the London Eye, the Queen’s Club, Royal Opera House and the Gherkin building, among others. But, the way the London’s society is presented is far from flattering or even sarcastically clever. Unlike his other films, especially those shot in New York, Allen dispenses with humour completely in “Match Point”. The director is too content simply to fill the screen time with endless dialogues (sure, spoken with the perfect British accent), and to draw the audience’s attention to the fact that his characters frequent the Saatchi gallery, the Tate Modern exhibitions, and go to the opera. That awe that Allen wants to instil in his audience towards London’s high society backfires and displeases. The whole story, especially the film’s dialogue sequences, is filled with predictable clichés and pretensions, and the whole film would be a dull one to watch for anyone accustomed to London, because there is nothing else of interest on offer here. In other words, “Match Point” was made by the tourist (Woody Allen) for the tourists, and if there are some allusions in the film to any matter other than sex or money, these things are accidental points of brilliance, rather than intentionally produced and well-thought-out moments in the film.
Woody Allen’s “Match Point” is tedious and melodramatic, with the whole story turned on a set of completely unlikely and ludicrous eventualities, which Allen only too eager to term “luck”. The whole story, characters and their relationships make almost zero sense in the film, and the film works neither as a drama-thriller, nor as a romance-comedy. Although the film has some interesting ideas script-wise and Scarlett Johansson shines, there is no escaping the fact that, in the end, it is just a humourless, preposterous and pretentious film, with the main character probably taking the crown of being one of the most annoying, unlikable and unsympathetic ever. 5/10