Adapted from his own stage play, Stephen Belber’s "Match" is a very stagey film adaptation of a sometimes silly story punctuated by some truth and heart. Starring Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, and Matthew Lillard, the film is about a couple (Lillard and Gugino) who travel to New York City to do an interview with a respected gay dance teacher (Stewart). But the truth of their visit involves much more, and soon enough there is high drama -- all within a New York City brownstone. Arguments, assaults, tears, and reconciliations will abound, and it will all wrap up in a neat little bow.
The biggest problem here is that it feels so much like a play that the cadences of the actors and the transitions from moment to moment feel awkward. Changes in conversations feel forced, as if the play needed to be filled out with more conversation because there wasn’t much there. While the truth about why the characters are interacting is an intriguing idea, the emotions and resolutions are nothing we haven’t seen before -- most likely in a soap opera.
The performances are all good and there are some lovely moments. Gugino brings the most to her role as a Ph.D. candidate whose husband is using her for his own gains. Lillard, too, is threatening and ultimately touching as an ex-cop with his own personal demons. Patrick Stewart is the troubling one. An accomplished actor, here he never makes the role feel like it is off the stage. And while he is a compelling performer, he struggles to make the character feel truly authentic. This might be the blame of playwright Belber, who hasn’t found a way to successfully transition his work from stage to screen. It never feels like a real film.
The good news: It isn’t boring. It just isn’t all that blistering. The intricacies of past decisions coming back to haunt the characters and the choices they make in the present moment all come to a head, but without any real lasting effect. In many ways we just don’t care. There is an exception, though: After a long and personal conversation, Toby and Lisa share a moment of heartbreaking intimacy that is well-earned and genuinely affecting. If the play could have culminated with similar emotions, this might have been memorable.
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