Saturday movie review: Match

My husband and I have watched a fair share of movies based on stage plays in the past several months and have been continually disappointed. After we aborted watching about two-thirds of the way through one painfully slow story—with a lovely and talented cast that simply could not save the show—we agreed to steer clear of movies based on plays going forward.

I'm grateful I had no idea MATCH was based on a play before we started watching it. For had I known then refused to watch the film starring Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, and Matthew Lillard was originally a 2005 Broadway play written by Stephen Belber and starring Frank Langella, I would have missed out on a minimal yet powerful, thought-provoking, and memorable story.

MATCH movie

Belber wrote and directed the film based on his play about an aging former world-traveling ballet dancer, Tobias or "Tobi" (Patrick Stewart), who's retired from dance and teaches at Julliard. Tobi is a loner of a sorts, with no apparent family, no close friends. He's passionate about dance and his students, and he enjoys the solitude of his tiny, pristine apartment. Tobi has had a career filled with success and sexual encounters—with both genders—and he's now content with his quiet life as a bachelor, choosing to knit passionately rather than pursue partners.

Then Lisa (Carla Gugino) and Mike (Matthew Lillard) enter Tobi's life. Lisa claims she's a student who wants to interview Tobi about his celebrated and sensual past for her dissertation on dance on the '60s. Mike, her husband, tags along for the interview. It doesn't take long, though, for Tobi to realize the interview is a ruse, and Lisa—and Mike, in particular—want far more from Tobi than tales of his glory days.


It didn't take long for me (or my husband or probably any other viewers) to figure out what Mike hopes to get from Tobi. Despite that predictability, the tension of the tug-of-war over what Mike wants and Tobi's refusal to give it kept me riveted, unsure of whose side I might be on, whom I should root for.

Tobi is delightful in many ways—but also an irresponsible, narcissistic jerk of sorts. Plus, he collects his nail clippings. What kind of normal person does that?

Mike, on the other hand, is a snarky bully with a chip on his shoulder. He bullies Tobi, bullies his lovely wife, Lisa, too. The bullying of Tobi becomes understandable; not so much his bullying of Lisa.

Lisa is stuck in the middle and—like viewers—sees the merits and failings of both Tobi and Mike. Ultimately, perhaps she was the most transformed by the experience. She's definitely the character who most resonated with me. One scene especially, as Lisa considers letting go of all she's holding on to, brought me to tears. Carla Gugino fabulously revealed pain and turmoil—and relief—with few words and haunting expressions.

The passion in each character (and actor) in MATCH gave me goosebumps at various times. The dialogue is equal parts pain and humor, and Stewart and Lillard complement one another well throughout. The final scenes made me want to hug both. And the slightly ambiguous resolution left me thinking of both long after the credits rolled.

Patrick Stewart briefly describes the magic of MATCH from his point of view in the following interview (though the lack of modesty on the part of the interviewer gets my granny panties in a bunch, I must admit):

The entire film—and story—changed my mind about movies based on plays. I will be watching them again—with high hopes they can match the power and poignancy of MATCH.

MATCH from IFC Films (rated R for language, sexual dialogue, and some drug use) premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival then had a very limited theatrical release in January 2015. It is now available on DVD and various streaming services.