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Match Point – Woody’s tin ear for English, and the English

Magic misused

Magic misused

Match Point – Director Woody Allen

A new movie genre – the Les Dawson movie. In order for Les to play the piano so hilariously badly he had to be a very skilled pianist capable of playing well when he so chose. Similarly Woody Allen with Match Point. But sadly it seems not only does Woody believe he is ‘playing’ well in this movie but the weakness of the writing, editing and directing appears to be unintentional. This movie is so poor on almost every level it is tempting to mock it. Unmercifully. But if you love movies, and I do; and admire talented people of whom there are many in Match Point, not least Allen himself, that would be unworthy and pointless. Especially as I have never written, directed or made a movie myself.

But, out of respect for other genuinely valuable work by all participants here, one in truth has to say this is for me the worst movie with which any of the actors and Woody himself have thus far been associated. Almost all movie disasters begin with the script. Before writing this review I had one fact to confirm – that Woody wrote it. I would have bet money on it and would have won my bet. This talented Director has an acute ear for the vocal rhythms of New York and the cadences of the elusive sprite of its wit, irony and comedy. Yet here he has a tin ear for English English and the realities of our social mores especially those of the filthy rich, non-aristocratic privileged classes in Blair’s supposedly meritocratic Britain. The silly arse, weak-chinned, Sloany stereotypes of the Hewett family in Match Point may play well to the prejudices of middle America but to real English ears, even those who might like the stereotype so as to mock it – it clunks. This self-conscious, at times risibly portentous dialogue plays like a deep sea diver trying the high jump. Even the enormous amount of acting talent on display cannot breathe credibility into such tosh. It takes a lot to defeat Penelope Wilton or James Nesbitt, two of our finest actors, yet they look embarrassed as they try to make this stuff work. Oh Woody, why didn’t you ask a real British writer to look at the script? Or do people around you now deny present reality out of respect for a glorious past?

Even Allen’s usual mastery of the basics of filmaking seem to have been lost overboard somewhere in mid-Atlantic. The film looks at times as if it was edited with garden shears. Some abrupt cuts with no dramatic purpose seem to be almost random and overall the editing just doesn’t flow at all. Those who hoped Woody’s much hyped love of working in London would make Match Point his English Manhattan will seek vainly for any images of London that linger in the mind for a second. The plot is I am afraid just plain silly. Characters we really do not give a damn about act in utterly implausible ways to further a thriller narrative that raises the eyebrows in disbelief rather than tightens the chest in suspense.

To make Scarlett Johanssen look frumpy seems an act of almost perverse genius. But clad in underwear that looks borrowed from the Bridget Jones wardrobe of industrial strength bras; and knickers only Hugh Grant could find alluring, the sex scenes are a mixture of unsympathetic filming and actorly embarrassment. For one shot of the voluptuous Johanssen behind in an early scene in a cornfield I suspect Woody will never be forgiven either by Scarlett or her legions of male admirers.

Johanssen is one of the most charismatic actress of her generation; Jonathan Rhys-Meyers showed great potential in Bend it Like Beckham; Penelope Wilton’s range and talent matches any of our Theatrical Dames; and Brian Cox has graced so many movies I’ve lost count. And Woody Allen has made at least two of the great movies of the last 40 years plus many others of real style and wit. But their combined efforts cannot make this dog of a movie play. No one could. It must have been there on the page to see Woody, someone should have had the courage to tell you.

As artists, I like and admire almost everyone associated with this movie. But it simply isn’t enough. This is a dead parrot and no amount of nailing it to its perch with mealy-mouthed reviewing will make it stand up.

(January 2006)

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