Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: May 12, 2005 (Cannes).
If you want to put me in a bad mood, make me watch a Woody Allen movie. This is my third Woody Allen film (after Irrational Man and Midnight in Paris) and Match Point is the most disappointing because I love thrillers and I should like this, but I do not.
Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a former tennis pro meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) while teaching tennis. Tom’s part of a wealthy, aristocratic British family and Chris finds his way into their good graces, eventually marrying Tom’s younger sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). To make matters worse, Chris falls in love with Tom’s fiancé, a struggling actress named Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson).
I’ll start at the very beginning of this film and its opening narration. Chris narrates, “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life… It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.”
That is one of the most immediately engrossing opening narrations I’ve come across. It sets up Match Point as a meditation on fate and luck, and Allen never strays from that. I find the history and background of Chris’ character fascinating. At one point, a tennis pro named Henry (Rupert Penry-Jones) tells Chris he’s always admired his game. “A couple of bounces the other way and you might have been able to beat those top seeds,” Henry tells him.
Chris is depicted as a player who didn’t have the luck to be an Andre Agassi of the game. Allen uses the theme of the ball throughout, hammering it in our heads. Some ways feel convoluted, but one way he uses it is smart. The smart way is how it relates to the characters of Chloe and Nola.
When Chris launches into the affair with Nola, she represents the ball bouncing back at him because if Chloe finds out, he’d lose his luxury lifestyle. Chloe represents the ball going forward and him winning, where he can keep his job security and lifestyle. As Chris makes this decision, the ball’s frozen over that net and it can go either way. Watching Match Point is like waiting for that ball to drop, because it moves at a snail pace.
Chris is the reason I don’t like this. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays him well, but he’s a boring asshole. He marries Chloe but obviously only has eyes for Nola from the start. He describes his future wife as a “sweet girl” and “nice person.” He just goes along with it for the lifestyle and the job he gets because of his father-in-law, Alec (a strong Brian Cox).
Scarlett Johansson is great as Nola, but I don’t connect with her character. Matthew Goode is very good but eventually gets sidelined, which is a shame because he’s one of the only characters that feels like a real person. Emily Mortimer is totally solid, too, but the character deserves better.
She turns into a one-note character when she wants to have a baby with Chris, and that’s all she talks about for most of it. The only interesting dialogue in this is the first time she brings it up because it’s funny and she tells him she wants three children. “You can do it, you have a powerful serve.” I’m sure in real-life when there’s frustration in fertility that’s all the conversations are about, and Allen understands this, but when this is their only conversation for two years, it becomes irritating.
Allen’s dialogue is boring and pedestrian throughout. That’s my biggest problem with Woody Allen as a writer, his screenplay has intriguing ideas then his characters spend so much time talking about things that are entirely inconsequential. His writing is simultaneously genius, yet insufferable.
I hate a lot of this film with every fibre of my being. The first 20 minutes of this works as they introduce the characters and the dialogue has meaning. From the 21-minute mark to the 85-minute mark, I believe this is one of the dullest films I’ll ever watch. There’s not enough money in the world to make me watch that portion of that film again (okay, someone take me up on this, because I’m broke).
The film takes 85 minutes to get to the thriller portion of it, and it’s engrossing once it gets there. The tension is strong and the writing is smart. I wish the entire runtime had this genius. That’s the tragedy of Match Point, that only 30 minutes of it – the thrilling third act – is genius. The first 20 minutes are fine but the 74 minutes in between? Kill me.
There’s a point where Woody Allen loses me again where Chris utters groan-worthy prose that no one would ever say. “[At least there would be] some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.” That just makes me want to say, “Fuck you, Woody Allen.” It also makes me picture Allen climbing on top of his high horse and showing us the size of his brain. We get it, Woody, you think you’re brilliant but put your brain away, dude. Please.