Director: Stephen Belber
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard
People who have garnered respect and notoriety in their chosen career path may not always lead a glamorous life, as they can also easily face hurdles when the public begins to associate them with just one achievement or milestone in their lives. They also often face obstacles in forming meaningful, lasting personal relationships, as they continuously strive to maintain the success they’re grown accustomed to throughout their careers. This is certainly the case with one of the lead character in writer-director Stephen Belber’s new comedy-drama ‘Match,’ the movie adaptation of the filmmaker’s 2005 Tony-nominated play of the same name. While the protagonist has garnered endless acclaim throughout his dancing career, he has unfortunately failed to learn to balance his professional accolades with embracing the one person who has longed for his acceptance the most throughout his life.
‘Match’ begins in the studio of former celebrated dancer and current Julliard professor, Tobias “Tobi” Powell (Patrick Stewart), as he’s offering stern but reassuring comments to his students. While he enjoys helping his students develop their skills, which helps him connect with the rising dancers, Tobi would rather spend his free time alone in his apartment than spend a weekend traveling with his colleagues.
Despite his reluctance to socialize with anyone outside of work, Tobi nervously agrees to meet with a married couple, Lisa (Carla Gugino) and Mike (Matthew Lillard), who have traveled to New York City from their home in Seattle just to interview him. When the couple meets the professor in his favorite diner near his home, Lisa tells him that she’s working on her dissertation about classical choreography, particularly during his height of fame. While Lisa is receptive to hearing about Tobi’s experiences throughout his career, Mike admits he knows little about the arts and Tobi’s history as a world-renowned dancer. So the professor happily engages the couple in a lively discussion about his career, particularly his experiences with other dancers and choreographers.
When the three go back to Tobi’s apartment to continue their discussion, Mike interrupts his wife’s questions with his own inquiries into the dancer’s personal and sexual interactions with women he knew throughout the late 1960s. Tobi’s happiness about divulging his memories about his career changes, however, when Mike suddenly becomes confrontational about his sexual orientation and personal life. As the dancer begins to doubt the couple’s intentions and motives for their trip, they admit they’ve come to believe, after speaking with Mike’s mother, that he may in fact be the younger man’s long-lost father. As Lisa tries to calm her increasingly hostile husband, who she later reveals to Tobi has been suspended from the police force in Seattle for using excessive force during an arrest, the three begin to reflect on the decisions they’ve made that have led to their current situation.
Belber, who made his Broadway playwright debut in 2004 with ‘Match,’ effortlessly translated the emotionally captivating and diverse characters he created for the theater to the screen. Like any successful and enthralling theatrical production that focuses on the growing emotional connection and dilemma between diverse characters who all have different motivations and life views, the endearing film fully explores Tobi, Lisa and Mike’s individual thoughts on the importance of family. The writer-director captivatingly emphasized Tobi’s flamboyant love of discussing his career and love of dance with his equally gripping hesitance to divulge information about his romantic liaisons throughout his career. Lisa, meanwhile, longingly desires to recapture her intimacy with her husband, and is understandably upset when he chooses to put his anger over never knowing his father over the future of their marriage. She enthrallingly doesn’t blame Tobi for following his professional dream over choosing to care for his child at the beginning of his career, even though the professor’s decision to focus on his dancing is what led her husband to be so hostile and weary over family relationships.
The most captivating and spellbinding performance in the riveting comedy-drama is the one given by Lillard, who powerfully transformed and developed his multifaceted and somewhat antagonistic character throughout the complexly relatable story. While Mike is initially presented as a secondary character who falls into the background as his wife interviews the renowned dancer, the surprising revelation of his suspicions of who Tobi really is gives the film’s story a meaningful purpose. Lillard grippingly understood his character’s need to carry out the aggression he’s held his entire life over never knowing his father, which powerfully amplify when Tobi refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of their true relationship. While Mike emotionally and aggressively spirals out of control when his meeting with Tobi initially doesn’t work out the way he had hoped, Lillard enthralling makes him realize that the dancer was acting the way anyone would when they’re scared, and relies on the one thing that gives them the most comfort to make them feel better.
The film version of ‘Match’ was also intriguingly presented in the same visual matter as the Broadway production. While the comedy-drama begins in Tobi’s dance studio at Julliard before it moves to the diner and finally settles primarily in the choreographer’s apartment, the story benefits from mainly staying in one location. Production designer Chris Trujillo creatively infused the apartment with vibrant details that powerfully capture Tobi’s sense of pride over his professional accomplishments, such as photos of his dancing career, while also emphasizing his emotional detachment from the people in his life. While Tobi fondly remembers the people he has allowed himself to care about, he hides the physical elements of those relationships, such as the sweaters he knitted for his family members during his spare time. Mainly staying in the dancer’s apartment for most of the story entrancingly showcases how he has been afraid to explore life outside of his comfort zone, and he wasn’t able to change his mindset until people courageously took the time to push his limits and question why he hasn’t allowed himself to fully care for anyone else.
‘Match’ is an emotionally captivating exploration into how a man who has enjoyed a prosperous career has missed opportunities to find true connections and love outside of his work. The film adaptation of Belber’s Broadway debut also effortlessly showcases how the one person who so desperately strived to capture Tobi’s attention all his life wasn’t able to finally do so until they had a passionate and meaningful confrontation. Combined with Lillard’s commanding development of his complex character, who’s still emotionally struggling with the question of why his father wasn’t there for him throughout his childhood, as well as Trujillo’s enchanting production design of the dancer’s revealing apartment, the film is an intriguing character study of three diverse and captivating people.
Written by: Karen Benardello