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MATCH: a matter of choice (film review)

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Match was supposed to be just one of those random movies I sometimes watch in search of leisure or pure escapism. Instead, it turned out to be a surprisingly honest rendition of solitude and personal choices.

Although Stephen Belber's second feature (first was Management) started off a bit ostentatious with its main character Tobi Powell (Patrick Stewart) teaching a ballet class at Julliard and trying to convey the right relationship with his students along with the looming sensation of a man who has dedicated his life's stamina to inspiring his pupils now that his dancing career is over, it shortly switched to a rhythm and inner life that made sense. We exit the confined space of Julliard's dance room and plunge into another confined space - Tobi's apartment. On the walls, photos of his past. The director tries to tell us a lot in just a few seconds. We see Tobi's routines, from knitting while watching soaps to spraying his plants. He avoids company and has created the perfect bubble for himself. Soon, we plunge into the vastness of New York as Tobi goes to meet someone at his favorite diner.

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Match was initially (in 2004) a play, just as Belber was initially a playwright, so it's easy to notice his writing as being extremely cautious with his details, perhaps even too cautious in the beginning. In the Broadway version, for the role of Tobi, Frank Langella was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. I don't know how that looked or felt like but Stewart was a very good choice as far as I'm concerned and it's difficult to imagine another Tobi saying the lines that I've heard him say. His Tobi was always on the verge of neurosis, one step away from being too bold or too shy. So, the ostentatious soon turned into a subtle portrait of the pains and joys of accepting your life for what it is.

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At the diner, we get introduced to one of Tobi's few friends, the foreign owner of the place and soon, his plot companions, Lisa (Carla Cugino) and Mike Davis (Matthew Lillard), a couple that has entered his life for an interview. Lisa is writing a paper on the dance community in the '60s. Tobias is not very good with people when he's not correcting someone's pliés. He tries his best to make conversation and have the couple feel at home, despite him being a bit out of his element. He's asked to talk about the beginnings of his career while Lisa absorbs every word and Mike acts like there's something wrong. You never fully suspect where Mike's attitude is coming from, just like you don't suspect that Tobi is in fact as stable as an artist can be, though his rigorous career is certainly an example of his discipline.

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The party of three soon moves to his apartment. He's feeling more comfortable around company, but the overall atmosphere is getting more and more dubious with every sentence. Shortly, Lisa doesn't ask the questions anymore, and Mike takes over. Tobi jokes of his interruptions and curiosities and concentrates on his moment in the spotlight. He offers them drinks and hash and they say 'yes.' Mike is more and more uncomfortable and we have no idea why. The awkwardness becomes more palpable, and with it, the portrait of a man whom you'd love to have met at some point in your lifetime. Mike is a cop, as it turns out, which creates a brief comic relief during the smoking session. Mike's face suddenly makes sense, though his stiffness not quite yet. As the whisky and hash settle in, the questions become more invasive and Tobi begins feeling uncomfortable in his own home. The pleasant surprise of the movie was that I was keeping up with his level of uncomfortableness and wanted to know the truth about Lisa and Mike.

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Yes, they're apart of Tobi's past, one where he made certain choices that have him a successful dancer, choreographer and teacher, but have failed to provide him with an emotional context. Though you might have guessed it, I'm not going to explicitly say what the plot twists are, but no matter the level of surprise in terms of narrative, you won't be able to resist Tobi Powell, a man of various talents.

Take out the beginning and the end of the movie, and you'd still have a beautiful portrait of a well-rounded personality.

Tags:   review, Patrick Stewart, drama, film review, Match, solitude, dance

Related:   Match


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