Screening at the 2015 Mardi Gras Film Festival. For festival tickets and session details visit the official website HERE.
Match, from writer-director Stephen Belber, is a minimalist drama that escalates with tension and opposing viewpoints.
Patrick Stewart plays Tobi Powell, a recluse ballet instructor who lives in Manhattan. Tobi prefers domestic duties, like watering plants and knitting instead of accompanying fellow friends at a Woodstock dinner party. Tobi’s status quo is challenged when he agrees to be interviewed about the New York dance scene in the 1960s.
Lisa (Carla Gugino), the interviewer, is accompanied by her husband, Mike (Matthew Lillard), who takes over Lisa’s interview from time to time. It becomes obvious that Mike is more interested in learning about Tobi’s sexuality and past encounters than in allowing Tobi to discuss the history of the New York ballet scene. Mike, you see, has a problem with Tobi’s colourful and liberal personality, which becomes more uncomfortable and problematic as the narrative goes on. Before long, it becomes apparent that the couple may have a hidden agenda and may not be who they say they are.
Match is a quietly powerful film, taking its time to explore the ins and outs of three very different individuals. Through their differences, conflicts arise. Mike is the opposite of what Tobi represents: debauchery, art and marijuana. Lillard’s homophobic cop hates all things art and is adamant that his views dominate the conversation. While Mike is the film’s clear bad guy, there are reasons vital to the narrative as to why he has these issues and they inevitably make you re-consider his reactions with more empathy.
Match does not portray its characters in a black and white context, suggesting one is better than the other. Instead, the film explores each individual’s grudges and hatred in detail, revealing more as each person unravels.
It is refreshing to see a nuanced queer identity on screen, which is often absent in typical mainstream film. Tobi has depth, he is not here for comic relief, and is not overtly camp or promiscuous. In much the same way, Lisa is handled differently from a typical female character, which can often be passive or sexualized. Gugino’s Lisa is a proud full-time worker and is not identified as a mother, but as someone who wants more out of life. She is unfulfilled sexually and is dominated in her marriage to Mike, and it’s that certain spark wanting to be released that truly makes her character interesting.
All of the character differences and barriers are soon broken, pushing each character to understand and challenge their own former perspectives. Stewart, Gugino and Lillard bring this story to life convincingly, expertly building these characters and ensuring the dynamics of the plot resonate with conviction.
The minimal locations and the naturally claustrophobic design of Tobi’s Manhattan apartment nicely emphasize the awkwardness of such a scenario. While such a setting undoubtedly serves a character study well, Match can often feel too much like the stage play on which it is based, a drama with three characters fighting it out in one room.
However, this is a good story, one with fully developed characters and without the usual clichés and laziness inherent to smaller pictures of similar attributes. Even if characters incessantly scream angry dialogue down your throat, it’s the back-to-basic methods of acting and Belber’s confidence with staging that makes Match downright enjoyable.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10