match point

critics seem to be crazy about match point: check out the rave reviews. unfortunately, i don’t have enough knowledge of woody allen’s work to be able see this film in the context of his career, nor a special fondness for the guy.

i have no idea what he was trying to do in match point. if the idea is that life is 10% talent and 90% luck, er, okay. if the idea is that scarlett johansson and jonathan rhys meyers are gorgeous, i’m with you, woody, though i have to say you have always creeped me out, and scarlett is TWENTY, for fuckssakes!

i don’t know, dude. affairs are hard to get out of, the high life is hard to throw to the winds, passion leads us to dark places, and babies have a nasty way of popping up if you fuck enough. thing is, none of this interests me very much. or maybe it’s just the way you present it, woody.

since no one posted comments yet, i feel all right about extending my thoughts on match point and actually, ahem, saying something of substance about it! chris wilton (rhys meyers) is a talented tennis player who doesn’t have the wherewithal or the inclination to duke it out on the professional tennis circuit. an irish bloke of limited means, he applies to a very exclusive london club as a tennis instructor. soon enough he encounters tom hewett (matthew goode), a member of the club who wants to brush up on his tennis skills. tom is the only son (he has a sister) of a very upper class english family which seems to embody all the features we tend to associate with upper class english families: enormous wealth, a certain down-to-earth but very genteel bonhomie, laid-backedness, a passion for booze, long weekends in the country, the occasional hunting party… you get the idea. on top of all that, the hewetts are also incredibly fond of each other, and the parents would do just about anything for their children — who, mind you, are just about as genteel, sweet, generous, and above-it-all as their loving parents.

soon our boy chris is happily paired with chloe hewett, the miraculous emily mortimer, while tom has been going out for a while with a gorgeous struggling actress from (of all places) boulder, colorado, nola rice (scarlett johansson). sprinkle on all this a generous helping of high art (chloe is in the process of opening her own art gallery and both chris and tom are inordinately fond of opera), and you have a fairly complete picture of the high life that lands on chris’s lap.

the fly in the ointment is that very soon chris becomes sexually obsessed with nola rice. to further complicate things, tom and nola break up just after chris and chloe get married.

this is a movie that is meant to exude sexual tension: primarily between chris and nola (who, truth be told, doesn’t seem to give a toss about him for 2/3 of the film), but also, maybe, between chris and tom, though this is very subtle indeed. woody allen is clearly winking at the talented mr. ripley, and jonathan rhys meyers is nothing if not androgynous. when chris and tom have a chat after their first tennis lesson, tom is totally taken with him, and is especially blown away by the fact that chris shares his passion for opera. when he invites him to the opera the following evening in the family box, tom is clearly aware that he’s getting a bit too familiar.

overplaying the homosexual element on tom’s part would be seriously overreaching. after a while, tom simply becomes part of the family decor and disappears from the (operatic) dramas that envelop chris’s life. but one should certainly not underestimate the homosexual element in chris’s life. chris loves the high life: he loves his expensive clothes (which he wears impeccably), he loves his chauffer, he loves his amazing house, and he loves the luxury that hanging out with the hewett family affords him. patricia highsmith and the talented mr. ripley have indelibly associated these tropes with homoeroticism (and i could add allan hollinghurt’s the line of beauty, another depiction of a gay boy in love with a substitute family exuding wealth and gentility). also, chris doesn’t like to have sex with his wife, and in spite of the fact that neither seems to have any fertility problem, they cannot conceive.

emily mortimer is perfect in her sweetness and cluelessness (chris could fuck nola in front of her and she’d find a perfectly good explanation for it). i fell in love with her in lovely & amazing (2001) and match point has definitely not changed my mind. but i do have a problem with johanssen and rhys meyers. though the latter is perfect in his mr. ripley-ish quality, the sexual sparks just don’t fly. maybe the on-screen chemistry is just not there, or maybe this film is much less about sexual obsession than it is about landing a place in the world and hanging on to it, whatever the cost.

24 thoughts on “match point”

  1. I agree with everything you say. One thing that puzzled me was that in the first couple of scenes in the opera, the singers were being accompanied by a piano instead of an orchestra; subsequently, however, we did get to hear an orchestra in at least one opera scene. What is the significance of this (if there is any)?

  2. I saw the film and really liked the first hour or so. From what I’ve read, Match Point was originally written for an American shoot (the Hamptons), but Allen received funding (BBC Films) and better vibes from England so he filmed there and, seemingly, revitalized his career. The homoerotic element is present, I guess, but I think it is definitely sub-subtextual and perhaps a classic “American” reading of British culture (plus I find the reading a tad reductive, playing into base stereotypes about boys who like boys and high style . . . still, Wilde would probably have approved). Americans do love their anglo(phile)eroticism. The better analogue for me is Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, a novel I’m quite fond of, but the true reference point is Allen’s 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors, a work I adore. Match Point, at its best, is merely riffing on this earlier, more self-conscious film. Ok, so anyway, the main reason I don’t completely buy your homoerotic angle is that Allen has always trafficked in representations of hyper-heterosexuality. This myth of the enduring, endless, obsessional love which cannot be contained is a boring narrative trope. Actually, I would have appreciated more Chris and Tom tomfoolery (old school tie and all that) as it might have lessoned the film’s intense push to generate currents and currents of heteroeroticism. So, yeah, I liked the first hour but I wanted to cut to the chase about 45 minutes before Allen did. I knew exactly where this film was going; I just didn’t know how exactly it would get there. There was some tension in the final scenes and I appreciated the classic Woody nod to Ingmar Bergman in the kitchen toward the end, but at 126 minutes, this film is about 40 minutes longer than any Woody Allen film and that’s not good. Reynolds will be returning from Ireland soon, and he might offer a take on the film’s representations of Irish identity politics on the sceptered isle, but he’ll have to see the film first.

  3. yeah, well, i was a bit reluctant to bring up homoeroticism, because, truth the told, it’s barely there. it’s just that rhys meyers is so androgynous, you know, and, also, i was influenced by my having recently read hollinghurst’s the line of beauty (anyone else?). as i said, i don’t know woody allen at all. and i’d be loathe loathe loathe to offend anyone. apologies in advance to all the gay men out there who feel vilely stereotyped by my comments!

    as for simon’s point, i don’t know what to make of it. i think i’ll make nothing. just rarefied esthetics. how’s that?

  4. I’m not sure I’ll see this, as I was thinking (from all the raves) what Gio said in her first brief post–it sounds awfully familiar, whether pointing toward a dull cliche about luck or Tom Ripley or Allen’s earlier classic Crimes. Every time I read a review, I felt more like re-reading Highsmith, or maybe seeing Purple Noon, again.

    There might be something there about Irish identity politics, but while in Eire I read an interview with the gorgeous Rhys-Meyers who implied that Allen didn’t give two hoots about any of that stuff, and seemed even unconcerned about the class politics except as useful ‘universalizing’ means to the philosophical end. (I.e., the powerful versus the weak, rather than anything concrete about the particularities of class and consciousness in the UK.)

    So, I’m still getting the vibe from you three that it is no big deal to wait for the dvd? (If I get out, I think I’d rather see Tristram Shandy.)

    Oh, and Gio: I, too, love Lovely & Amazing, finding my intense appreciation of Catherine Keener somewhat offset by an equally intense appreciation of Mortimer. What a great movie; did you see the filmmaker’s earlier Walking and Talking? It’s equally damn good–Keener, again, plus Liev Schreiber and Anne Heche.

  5. I read The Line of Beauty but it didn’t bowl me over. It was a nicely written novel. Have you read the Irish novel At Swim, Two Boys? It’s nearly perfect.

    I think the cops in Match Point are Irish which I found interesting, though they also push the film’s tone in a new direction very late in the dramatic action. It was odd. Definitely a wait for the DVD, but worth seeing.

  6. jeff, please stop talking about books. on this blog we are beyond books.

    are there any spoilers in any of the above? or will it only be safe for me to read this thread after i’ve seen the movie? (which won’t be till it gets to dvd.)

  7. OK at the risk of sounding like a one-note, I have to agree with Gio about the homo-eroticism. (Apparently every film I have seen in the last year has been homo-erotic in one way or another.) In the case of this film, my perception of homo-eroticism may be due to the fact that I just saw the film on South Beach, where every single nod or glance that could possibly be interpreted as homoerotic elicited a titillated giggle from my fellow theatergoers.

    “Thom is a very handsome man, don’t you think, Chris?”
    “…yes. Yes he is…”

    The comparison Gio draws between this film and The Talented Mr. Ripley makes this flirtation (Chris’s or Woody’s: you pick) a little more interesting because it suggests that Chris is attracted to what Thom IS and what he HAS in some inseparable way that expresses itself in this quasi-sexual vibe.

    Of course, it doesn’t help that, like Gio says, there were ZERO sexual sparks flying between Jonathan and Scarlett. If this was a match point, it was a wet match. Things have to be pretty bad when you’re not getting off looking at Jonathan Rhys-Meyers going at it.


    So are we to assume that Nola was NOT pregnant? Wouldn’t that have come out in her autopsy if she were, thereby incriminating Chris?

  8. arnab, why on earth did you delete my comment? i know it was superseded by jeff’s reply (though there were other things in it), but this blog is chock full of superseded comments! put it back!!!

  9. I don’t think it means anything, but just for the sake of accuracy, Jeff says the cops at the end of the movie are Irish. In fact, the chief cop (who gets what happened) is Irish; the other is Scottish.

  10. arnab, why on earth did you delete my comment? i know it was superseded by jeff’s reply (though there were other things in it), but this blog is chock full of superseded comments! put it back!!!

    eh? what comment? when comment? i haven’t even looked at this discussion for fear of seeing spoilers.

  11. mike, i haven’t seen Walking and Talking. i just checked. i didn’t answer sooner because i wasn’t sure. same director, same katherine keener: new movie coming out in april. yay!

    jeff, i also didn’t think much about The Line of Beauty. like you, i thought, well written. though i really liked the denoument. i wish we could discuss books, because i’m reading kazuo ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and i am rather mesmerized by it. but we can’t, alas.

  12. one might organize a blog regarding books–of course I won’t be able to participate much, having lost the ability to read recently.

  13. i like to wear nice pants when i travel. i have a pair of black pants and a pair of white pants that i particularly like for those occasions. the white pants tend to get grimy, but i don’t care, because they are sturdy white jeans-like pants and i can bleach them! paradoxically, the black pants are more problematic, because they are nice slacks and i am more wary of abusing them. know what i mean, jeff?

  14. I like to wear jeans sans undergarments when I travel.

    My daughter’s hip new word is garment as we have been watching “Project Runway” over on Bravo . . . she now wants me to buy her some garments, and she is also aware that in fashion one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.

    Auf Wiedersehen.

  15. we watched match point last night. i liked it fine i guess–though i must admit that i am prejudiced in favour of anything in which scarlett johansson appears (yes, yes, i’m as much of a perv as woody). the gender issues are especially murky here but the film held my attention well enough. it seemed like such a mix of genres and morality tales–class drama, sex comedy, existential tragedy, murder mystery. i’m not sure it deserves all the plaudits it seems to have received (or that johansson deserved an oscar nomination) but it was interesting enough.

    personally, and i’m sure this is a failing on my part, i find it very difficult these days to read these allen dramas about relationships separate from those in his personal life. almost all of them seem to be allegories of the trauma and guilt associated with relationship betrayal. i’m not suggesting that any of them map directly onto events in the notorious triangle in his life–this one certainly doesn’t–but they all seem like ways of approaching those issues and, in some cases (sweet and lowdown,) expiating guilt by claiming an excess of it. as such, i watch like a hypnotized voyeur and doubtless have some of my critical edge disarmed. plus there’s the whole scarlett johansson thing.

  16. I’d like take up the point about the homoeroticism in this film. I’m not sure the point that Jeff makes about Woody’s hyper-heterosexuality is enough to counter the very fine observations Gio has made. In fact, it’s the hyper-heterosexuality in this film that calls attention to the relationship between Chris and Tom. I don’t know if homoeroticism is the right word, but there’s something going on between Chris and Tom. The film is not about Chris and Tom, it’s about Chris and Nola. But in order for the film to be about Chris and Nola, in some ways it has to be, also, about Chris and Tom. In addition to Chris’s remarks about Tom’s good looks, and the attraction between Chris and Tom on the tennis court, there’s a telling scene between Chris, Tom and Nola that’s worth mentioning: the scene where Chris spies on Tom and Nola as they are fooling around. There’s some seriously heavy petting going on when Tom realizes they’re being watched. This heterosexual passion, on display for Chris’s eyes only (Nola teasingly makes the point that Tom wanted to steal her away from everyone’s view in the hopes, paradoxically, of being discovered) fuels his narcissistic libido. The scene made me think that what Chris has succumbed to a narcissistic identification with Tom. One could say that this hardly constitutes homoeroticism–just because Chris wants Tom’s life, his things, his family, etc., doesn’t mean he wants Tom, or that the film even draws attention to homoerotic play (which, Gio laments, it doesn’t–at least not enough). But narcissistic identification is as much about the libido as it is about the ego, it is the condition in which the two drives collapse. There’s no division between “I want to be Tom” and “I lust after Nola.”

    Chris watches the lovemaking between Tom and Nola in the dark, alone, outside. The doorway frames the two lovers the way a movie screen frames the image. The lovemaking is meant for a spectator (Like Tom and Nola, movies pretend we aren’t watching them, but they know full well we are). The pleasure of looking at the image is combined, paradoxically, with identification with the image seen. Laura Mulvey talks about this in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and she is referring to Freud’s later work, “On Narcissism,” “Mourning and Melancholia” and Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he is struggling to account for two contradictory instincts, ego and libido. Long story short, Chris is deriving pleasure from looking at Nola being made love to. But he is also deriving pleasure from seeing in Tom his ego-ideal. There are two contradictory aspects of pleasurable looking at work in this scene. Mulvey describes this peculiar contradiction this way:

    The first, scopophilic, arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from identification with the image seen. Thus in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with and recognition of his like.”

    It’s not a coincidence, then, that Allen stages it as if Chris is watching a movie because, as Mulvey explains, the cinema has evolved “a particular illusion of reality in which this contradiction between libido and ego has found a beautifully complementary phantasy world.”

    It may be that there is little to the scene where Chris spies on Tom and Nola, except to show how Chris is angry that Nola is so obviously sexually attracted to Tom. This may be simply because he is jealous of Tom, and/or that Nola’s passion is indiscriminate or (worse) discriminate–that their splendor in the grass was an accident. But apart from this scene, Nola never appears attracted to Tom. It’s an unusual moment, when peeping-Chris catches Tom in the act, because the film never gives us a scene where Nola and Tom are interacting this way. In fact, they seem distant and detached; there’s no passion between them. In one scene, they sit across from one another in the Hewett’s home, separated physically by a chess board (are they in competition?), and emotionally by the mother’s innuendo about Nola’s failing acting career (which parallels Chris’s failing tennis career).

    Chris’s object-love (Nola) dominates his entire sexual activity (nothing happens between Chris and Chloe, everything happens between Chris and Nola–including, oddly, conception. What gives their love-making potency is, as Nola points out, their passion. Medically speaking, neither Chris nor Chloe are incapable of conceiving. This is kind of silly, and I think Allen is just mystifying passion). But it’s hard to explain why Chris is not attracted to Chloe without resorting to fairly conventional attitudes about sexual obsession (i.e, Nola is just sexier than Chloe, she’s angry, distant, dangerous, aloof), or to mere plot contrivances (i.e. sex with Chloe is too mechanical, necessarily so because she is trying to conceive a child–but why are the two having trouble? Chloe isn’t infertile, Chris isn’t impotent). Chris is especially drawn to Nola because of his narcissistic identification with Tom. But he is not attracted to Tom’s sister, Chloe. Why not? If not because Nola is simply more attractive and alluring, then it must be because Nola is Tom’s lover. This seems to work in the ways I describe above–and I think it is backed up, somewhat, by the fact that Chris is less inclined to carry on the affair after he discovers Nola and Tom have split up. There is the scene in the Tate where Chris demands Nola’s number, and they do carry on the affair for a spell, but the more time Tom spends with Chris and Chloe and their parents, the more willing he is to put an end to the affair with Nola.

    Jeff is right to call attention to the hyper-heterosexuality. But this hyper-heterosexuality (male social and sexual mastery over the female) is not just in the film, but is on display as film. I don’t think Allen is doing Fatal Attraction, I think there is something much more interesting here. Match Point doesn’t sustain my interest in the same way that Crimes and Misdemeanors did, but this is because the former doesn’t hold my interest as a Woody Allen film, which is not knocking it.

  17. Wow. Great post. Guess I’m going to need to go back and watch the film again (Nic will like it I’m guessing). Still, Chris meets Nola at the ping pong table before he has any idea that she and Tom are engaged (in fact one could argue that both are outcasts–nationally, economically, as well as their status as vocational disappointments, if that makes sense–and their position as guests who are “out of place” draws them to each other, however subliminally). That scene struck me as the origin scene for all that follows (it’s the moment of intrusion in the dramatic action where conflict is established that will have to be resolved in one way or another; it’s also such a film noir moment). Indeed, it is the moment when Tom’s boy crush (we’ve all had boy crushes, right) on Chris is transformed into something altogether new and dangerous. Now the way I remember the double-framed moment, when Chris steps out onto a porch and catches Nola and Tom in the heat of the moment, is very similar to John’s statement:

    It may be that there is little to the scene where Chris spies on Tom and Nola, except to show how Chris is angry that Nola is so obviously sexually attracted to Tom. This may be simply because he is jealous of Tom, and/or that Nola’s passion is indiscriminate or (worse) discriminate–that their splendor in the grass was an accident. But apart from this scene, Nola never appears attracted to Tom.


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