Lucky strike

Match, drama, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Robert Ker

As with sev­eral other peo­ple who rose to global fame through the Star Trek fran­chise, Pa­trick Ste­wart — the for­mer Cap­tain Jean-Luc Pi­card — is so warmly loved that he’ll stay firmly in the public con­scious­ness whether he acts again or not. Just like Star Trek’s Ge­orge Takei, he has re­mained in minds and hearts through the in­ter­net, where he has birthed vi­ral videos by do­ing things such as tweak­ing the ALS Ice Bucket Chal­lenge and speak­ing out against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Ste­wart has stayed so vis­i­ble that it’s easy to over­look the fact that aside from voice work and his other ma­jor role — Pro­fes­sor Charles Xavier in the X-Men films — he hasn’t ac­tu­ally ap­peared in many movies or TV pro­grams. (He has, how­ever, re­mained some­what of a fix­ture on the Lon­don stage.) Match re­minds indie-film au­di­ences of how pow­er­ful an ac­tor he is, as he cashes in on his warmth to em­body Tobi, a com­fort­ably flam­boy­ant Juil­liard dance in­struc­tor.

The story be­gins when a mar­ried cou­ple (Carla Gug­ino and Matthew Lil­lard) en­ters Tobi’s life to in­ter­view him for a dis­ser­ta­tion. It quickly be­comes ap­par­ent — through a plot twist that the au­di­ence will sniff out well be­fore the re­veal — that they have ul­te­rior mo­tives. The re­sults of that twist will send all three crash­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, as deeper and deeper se­crets begin to sur­face.

Writer and direc­tor Stephen Bel­ber based the film on his 2004 play (for which Frank Lan­gella earned a Tony nom­i­na­tion for his por­trayal of Tobi), and many of the tics of the theater re­main, for bet­ter or worse. Match is pri­mar­ily set in one mod­est lo­ca­tion, the char­ac­ters dras­ti­cally over­share, and the ac­tors show­case a wide vari­a­tion of emo­tion in jar­ring ups and downs — some­times within the same minute. A more cin­e­matic touch would have been nice.

Nonethe­less, Bel­ber’s keen eye for life’s in­ter­nal strug­gles re­mains. Match is a pro­found study of three peo­ple who all lack some­thing in their lives and can’t quite fill those voids with one an­other. All three ac­tors are strong, even if Lil­lard’s more volatile mo­ments don’t quite strike the right chord. The story blends overly pre­dictable events with gen­uine sur­prises. By the end, the big­gest sur­prise might be how moved you feel.

Much of this ef­fect comes down to Ste­wart, who in­vests his whole body in the per­for­mance, show­cases im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing, and weaves a won­der­ful ta­pes­try of pathos and hu­mor. He shows great em­pa­thy for the char­ac­ter and im­bues him with in­cred­i­ble hu­man­ity. Per­haps it is be­cause we know Ste­wart so well that he makes us feel as if we know Tobi from the minute we see him.

Pas de Pi­card: Pa­trick Ste­wart

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