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