Sunday, January 11, 2015

Stephen Belber's MATCH gives Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard plum roles

Identity proves the pivot point in MATCH, the new film from Stephen Belber, who, back in 2009, gave us a very interesting, funny and charming rom-com entitled Management and also wrote the screenplay for Richard Linklater's Tape. One man's identity and why someone else might care about this are the questions that arise in the course of the film, written and directed by Belber and starring a very fine threesome: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard, all working at close to the height of their not inconsiderable powers.

Mr. Belber, shown at right, is a writer who's very clever with dialog, as a look at his resume will demonstrate. Here his screenplay, extremely dialog-heavy, is also adapted from his original play and is full of exposition done smartly and for a very good reason. The film's beginning is all about a graduate student (Ms Gugino) and her interview with a famous dancer, choreographer and teacher (Mr. Stewart), abetted by the student's not particularly helpful husband (Mr. Lillard). A lot of history is covered quickly and smartly, with Stewart playing the ever-so-slightly preening celebrity, enjoying a new moment or two in the sun, as he regales his listeners with stories of his life and career.

It is not long before we realize that the agenda here is something other than the stated one, and from there onwards the movie -- highly enjoyable from its outset -- becomes even more so, as well as exciting and surprising.  This is a role different from anything Stewart, shown above and below, has previously tackled (in my memory, at least), and it requires him to run the kind of gamut of emotions we're not used to seeing from this actor. He nails every nook and cranny.

Ms Gugino, below, comes through beautifully, too. Always a gifted actress, as well as a beauty, she brings a special vulnerability to her role that becomes more endearing and moving as the movie rolls along.

Mr. Lillard (below, left) is probably the biggest surprise here. Too often relegated to bozo roles earlier in his career, he comes into his own quite beautifully as the hubby with issues too heavy for him to handle. He's angry, closed off, and frightened of his own strength, which he's beginning to use in ways not at all wise.

Match is a kind of chamber piece; we see a few other performers along the way but it's these three who count for everything, and they play off each other beautifully. I would think this movie must have been a joy to film; it certainly is one to view.

The movie -- from IFC Films and running 92 minutes -- opens this Wednesday here in New York City at, I suspect, the IFC Center; in Los Angeles look for it at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Music Hall 3. If you're located elsewhere than on either coast, fear not, for the film makes it VOD debut simultaneously with its theatrical opening. 

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