Film Review: Match (★★★)

matchI’m a huge fan of when an actor just gets to let loose with a juicy role and have the time of their lives, especially one who rarely gets that sort of an opportunity. In the case of Patrick Stewart, he gets to really run wild with his role in Match, a dramedy that uses him to pitch perfect effect. Really, I’d go so far as to say that if this had been released closer to the fall or especially winter of 2015, we’d be looking at Stewart as someone in play for a Best Actor nomination. At the very least, a citation from the Spirit Awards would be a given (and may still very well be, but that’s a long way off). He’s just that good. Writer/director Stephen Belber is smart enough to just let Stewart shine, which in turn rubs off on not just his co-stars, but the whole production as well. He just has a vibe that flows throughout the entire flick. I can’t imagine Match without Stewart, which is a rather profound compiment to pay. The film is solid, but Belber’s work is elevated terrifically by Stewart. He really is the heart and soul of the movie. His performance is worth the price of admission alone. Match offers up a veteran actor one of the best roles he’s ever had, that’s for sure. Watching him absolutely ace it here is a real pleasure.

Tobias, or Tobi Powell (Stewart) is a respected Juilliard dance professor who seems to be living the gregarious yet simple life he’s always dreamed of. He keeps to himself a bit, but is bubbly and effusive when putting on a show for the public. Tobi is expecting a visit from out of towner Lisa (Carla Gugino), a grad student looking to interview him for a dissertation that she’s doing on the history of dance in New York during the 1960’s. She arrives in Manhattan with her husband Mike (Matthew Lillard), a quiet police officer, and they meet Tobi near his home. They make small talk and get to know each other in a diner, before heading to his apartment to continue the conversation. There, it becomes increasingly clear that Lisa, and especially Mike, have ulterior motivations for arranging this meeting. Up until that point, Tobi has been almost a comedic character, but from there on out, we get to see much more in the way of drama from this already dramatic individual, including a bit of sadness. I won’t spoil the surprises that lay ahead, but I will say that the film does not wind up going in the direction that you might anticipate it going. The end result is something rather unique, in fact.

75Without question, the undisputed highlight of Match is Patrick Stewart. This is an absolute masterclass in acting, perhaps even the best that Stewart has ever put forth on the screen to date. That’s high praise, I realize, but this character could have easily been a caricature, but Stewart never lets things even begin to go in that direction. It’s a showy performance, but one marked with a lot of subtle power as well. I really can’t say enough about his work here, it’s just magnificent. That talent rubs off on his costars too, as mentioned above. Carla Gugino is solid in the right role, and here she gets one of the best she’s had in a while. Her chemistry with Stewart is splendid and some of their conversations could have been little short films of their own. She’s up to the challenge Stewart puts forth, that’s for sure. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Matthew Lillard is very good too. I’ve enjoyed him in guilty pleasures like Summer Catch before (don’t judge me!), but here we see a whole new side of him. He’s hinted at this talent before, but he really puts it to good use in this movie. Lillard is the big shock of the production. All three are strong though, obviously, with no one else really in the cast. There’s small parts for Jaime Tirelli and Rob Yang, for example, but it’s really Gugino, Lillard, and Stewart all the way, with Stewart way out in front.

Playwright turned filmmaker Stephen Belber really sticks to his stage skills here, letting Match be dominated by acting. The writing is strong and the direction is simple, but Belber clearly wants this to be about the cast, particularly Stewart. It’s a good call too, as this type of production works best with this sort of a set up. Kudos to Belber for getting the cast to up their game like this, though obviously we’ve long known Stewart was a master, having seen him knock roles out of the park before. However, Belber might just have given me my favorite Stewart performance ever, give or take his cameo on the show Extras. It’s simple writing and direction, but it works. Belber also manages not to go down familiar paths with his story, so that deserves some praise as well, particularly as things progress towards the end.

In the end, Match is the sort of small scale dramedy that often can get lost early on in the year, which makes me wish that the 2015 release date was more towards the fall, or at least the spring. However, it shines all the brighter for having been released in January. Especially for Stewart’s performance, this is one not miss. Match offers up a simple yet fulfilling time at the movies. Seek it out.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!