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LAce Posted Monday, January 2nd, 2006
Match Point: A Movie Review
Jessica Taylor

Match Point: Here’s why you shouldn’t go —

  1. Brokeback Mountain
  2. Crime and Punishment
  3. Scarlett Johansson’s tits are covered.

Now if those reasons aren’t enough, I’ll give you some more. If you like cliché piled upon cliché, this movie may be for you. The film opens with a heavy-handed image of the movie’s unique symbolism — a tennis ball that floats over the net. Our narrator, the yet-to-be introduced Chris Wilton, dissects the winning or losing of a game based on whether the tennis ball that rests momentarily on the top of the net falls in his court or in his opponent’s.

Cut to the first of many hackneyed and unrealistic scenes. Poor man’s Jude Law (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) slips easily into a tennis instructor position at London’s most elite country club. His interviewer holds a crumpled resume and seems perfectly willing to hire any kid off the street who claims he can hit a ball around and instruct Wimbledon box-holders how to serve. At this moment I found myself wondering — did Woody Allen ever have a job interview? How quickly the privileged forget the cruelties and intricacies of the real world.

Unrealistic scene two: Our sorry protagonist quickly befriends a friendly rich family. (Because every time I meet a rich guy he is often without friends of his own and actively seeking to befriend and sponsor a working kind of gal...) Get this — this family is generous, so much so they recruit Chris to work at daddy’s company, sans MBA, and likely sans college degree. Who needs one of those when you can instantly be trusted with an enormous European conglomerate’s most valued clients, let in on lucrative deals involving the Japanese, with access to innumerable young secretaries happy to be discreet and provide two aspirin when your head aches?

We also see our young hero reading Dostoevsky’s classic alongside a study guide. He meets his wife-to-be, Chloe Hewett (Emily Mortimer), a gawky nice little rich girl who constantly espouses how much her father loves to “help” his family. Impressed with the perks of dating a rich girl, Wilton settles for a relationship with her despite the disappointments of sharing her boudoir. Enter Nola Rice, played by double D Scarlett Johansson, expert smoker and struggling actress from Boulder, Colorado. Chris beats her at ping-pong at the Hewett country estate then nearly devours her just before learning that she is the fiancée of his new best friend and brother-in-law-to-be, Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode, who is responsible, incidentally, for the best acting performance of the lot, although his talents are hardly enough to carry the film). Tom and Chris share a passion for opera. Could Woody Allen at least have stepped out of the box and chosen trance music or something?

Woody Allen does maintain an inkling of his insight into the family dynamic. The matriarch of the Hewett family disapproves of her son’s potential marriage to Nola Rice. Her slights and subtle disparagements ring true to the legacy of mothers-in-law and are a guaranteed amusement.

And so it goes…Chris’ career excels, his wardrobe improves (many a scene is shot as he departs from Cartier or some such store with a shopping bag in hand). He has a number of “chance” meetings with Nola in which his lust for her is aggravated. Eventually she makes it clear that their tryst in the downpour — you read that right — was a one-time thing, and she has every intention of tying the knot with his best friend. That is, until she gets dumped directly following Chris’ own marriage to Chloe. Chris seeks Nola out. She has gone back to the States. She returns. They meet at the Tate. They fuck. And their torrid love affair begins in earnest this time.

Here I will remind you that Scarlett Johansson does not bare anything but her cleavage and back. She likely has a restrictive clause in her contract for full-frontal nudity. It becomes clear that this is her way of protecting her most compelling asset — either that or Woody Allen continues to write some of the industry’s flattest female characters.

At any rate, for those of you literary types or at least those who had to read Crime and Punishment in high school — or hell, those of you who are familiar with the old Fatal Attraction scenario, you can guess what happens next. The wrong “wife” gets pregnant. Chris perseverates over some tough decisions — to tell his wife and say goodbye to the spoils of Europe or to somehow break it off and — gasp — dispose of his mistress. To boot, Nola’s apartment is adjacent to an old woman’s, which presents Chris with a further opportunity to copy Raskolnikov. Ironically, this is where our menagerie of clichés does gain some momentum at least. We are given a glimpse of Raskolnikov’s own suspense — will Chris be punished for his wrongdoings?

What Match Point lacks — and perhaps this is why I wonder if Woody Allen simply read the first three quarters of the Cliff Notes on Crime and Punishment — is Raskolnikov’s ultimate redemption. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to show inner conflict on the face of a bad actor. If only Jude Law hadn’t turned this rip-off of a screenplay down.

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