MATCH starring Patrick Stewart

At its very core, MATCH is a mystery.

In its initial minutes, it appears to be a jovial comedy about Tobi (Patrick Stewart), an eccentric Julliard dance instructor and Lisa (Carla Gugino), a woman who comes to interview him for her dissertation on the history of dance while accompanied by her disinterested husband Mike (Matthew Lillard). The fact that Tobi is so quirky and artsy and Mike is a straight-laced police officer who seems uncomfortable with the interview because he assumes Tobi is gay seems like the opening minutes are a setup for a conventional comedy. But writer/director Stephen Belber, who wrote and directed the little-seen 2008 Jennifer Aniston comedy Management, doesn’t settle for a script full of gags about a manly man uncomfortable with another man’s assumed sexual orientation. Instead, MATCH is one of the most startlingly moving dramas of the 2014 festival season and is sure to make an impact upon its general release in 2015.

The interview setup instead leads the trio to Tobi’s Inwood apartment, where he enjoys regaling them with stories of his life’s work. In fact, based on earlier brief glimpses of his rather humdrum life, Tobi just seems overjoyed to have the opportunity to speak to others. But once the group is in Tobi’s apartment, the questions become increasingly personal and it becomes apparent that there is much more to this story than a dissertation. That leads this film down storytelling paths that a viewer would have never expected. Films can often contain so few surprises, and then something like MATCH comes along and virtually brings a twist to every single scene.

Of course, the star here is Patrick Stewart. Stewart has already amassed a body of work that proves that he is one of the great dramatic actors. He has nothing left to prove – in fact, if he spent the rest of his life trading in on his X-Men and Star Trek fame on the convention autograph circuit nobody would blame him – yet it is a testament to his dedication to his craft that he still seeks out opportunities to flex his acting muscles. MATCH is perhaps his finest non-theater performance in over a decade. It’s wonderful to see Stewart in a role that he can sink his teeth into.

Gugino, an actress who has never quite found a role to define her career, has found the ability to match Stewart. The film digs within her character, but in many ways she is the “everywife” who can never find her own life separate from her husband. Her performance is deeply sorrowful, but at the same time full of strength. She has so much more to offer than her small roles in Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Spy Kids, and it is about time that filmmakers have noticed that.

Beleber has not only directed a dramatically intense film, but he has written a script full of both humorous and poignant dialogue. Early in MATCH (when it still appears to be a comedy), Stewart’s character comments on the softness of the jacket belonging to Gugino’s character. He says:

“Oh my God! This is softer than a baby’s ass! Oh, is that inappropriate? I know nothing about baby ass, it just seemed like nice image.”

It’s a hilarious line that indicates that Tobi is a man being complimentary, but also concerned how this interview will portray him. Though not all of the dialogue in MATCH is hilarious, much of it reveals the same truths as this one does.

At only 90 minutes, MATCH is the rare rollercoaster drama that will floor you, yet provide a satisfying story in that timing. It is because of the combination of Beleber’s writing and directing and Stewart and Gugino’s acting that MATCH is a must-see for anyone who appreciates indie dramas.

RATING 5 out of 5: MUST See it …… It’s EXCELLENT

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