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Woody Allen misses the point, again

Joseph Watts | The McGill Daily | Lifestyles | January 16th, 2006

MONTREAL (CUP) -- The last movie that ended with Woody Allen's name somewhere in the credits was Melinda and Melinda, and it gracefully left U.S. theatres after receiving mixed reviews and making a paltry $3 million. The final verdict was that it was just another Woody Allen flick. So why should we believe that Match Point, his latest effort as writer and director, should be any different? The answer is, though the movie tries really hard, we shouldn't.

The man who brought us neurotic men and young, attractive women in dysfunctional relationships set against the vibrant, ever-changing backdrop of, you guessed it, Manhattan, has done it again. But how do you make it so the audience will think it is original? Easy: change Manhattan to London and amp up “neurotic men” to “psychotic lunatics.”

The story follows Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) —once a professional tennis player, who meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), eventually marries his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer)— and the ways he copes with married life. Tom and Chloe, having the surname Hewett, are of the blue-blooded aristocracy that owns expansive London flats and large chunks of the English countryside on which they drive Bentleys, shoot birds, and suppress their emotions with copious amounts of gin and tonic.

Naturally you would assume that Chris would live the life of Riley, get a cushy job, and mooch off Papa Hewitt for the rest of his days. That, my dears, would not be drama. Chris Wilton, possibly because of his Irish upbringing, knows nothing of self-suppression, and falls lustily in love with his brother-in-law's hot American fiancÚ, Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Their affair turns into deep obsession, with each side of the party getting its chance to be the crazy one. Not to be outdone, Chris proves himself to be the crazier one in his effort to save face and keep his new relationship together.

The lasting sentiment Allen imparts with his film is that luck, and not natural selection, is what weeds people out in society. Looking at Chris Wilton, you can see that he is a man made, and destroyed, by luck. Perhaps he is driven to insane measures because of this, but that certainly does not make us feel any empathy. About one-third of the way into the movie, his character becomes unpleasantly distasteful to the point where it is uncertain whether Rhys-Meyers's performance or Allen's writing should be blamed.

In striving to make Wilton as morally ambiguous as possible, the main character and the audience are effectively separated. None of the acting is poor —Rhys-Meyers actually played Chris Wilton as he is meant to — the trouble is, Wilton is a social delinquent. Allen's leading males are typically a little crazy, and we can usually laugh as we imagine Manhattan as an island packed with such neurotic men, but I am not sure that making Wilton a vicious lunatic was the best way for Allen to break his mold. The overemphasis and magnification of Wilton's faults remove the viewer's feelings from the suspense of the movie. It's hard to care about his fate, and the film loses its driving force and main source of amusement.

All this said, the film isn't a total loss; it has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards. The cinematography is beautiful, owing in part to the on-location filming in London and Buckinghamshire, England. The acting is at times forced, but generally very good, especially the timid naivety of Emily Mortimer's Chloe. Match Point is mildly entertaining and may even get you on the edge of your seat, just don't expect anything but standard Woody Allen with a British twist.
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