Woody Allen just might be the most overrated filmmaker drawing breath today. And like most people, when I use the word "overrated," what I'm really saying is that I am unable to see the appeal behind something everyone else seems to unconditionally adore (as long as I'm confessing, I feel the same way about The Beatles). So all you villagers who are readying your pitchforks and torches, I remind you that this is strictly my opinion. With any luck I can back it up in such a way that will keep the stabbing and burning of me to a minimum.
Speaking of luck, it's the underlying theme of Allen's latest, Match Point, which stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, a tennis instructor and former pro who "would rather be lucky than good." Voiceovers convey how heavily he relies on fate, which looks to be a smart policy. Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), his new tennis student, just so happens to have a pretty sister called Chloe (Emily Mortimer, Lovely and Amazing), and she happens to have an eye for Chris as well as fabulously wealthy parents (the great Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton, Shaun's mom in Shaun of the Dead). It isn't long before Chris is enjoying a cushy life thanks to the agenda-riddled benevolence of his new family, but then chance shows its cruel side. It goes by the name of Nola (Scarlett Johansson).
Nola is Tom's fiancée, but that doesn't prevent Chris from commingling his pillow lips with hers. The bond between Nola and Chris is bolstered by the fact that they are both lower-caste crashers of the exclusive Hewett party: He's a scrappy Irish kid, she's a struggling American actress. Snooty friction drives Nola away from the Hewett fold and frees her up to get thoroughly entangled with Chris, and then... I don't want to divulge too much about the ridiculous plot twist. Suffice it to say that Chris's troubles take a not-unexpected turn, and he is forced to make an American Tragedy-esque choice between his comfortable yet mundane existence and complicated lust.
If you've seen an independent film in the last decade or so you've probably noticed Rhys Meyers prowling the perimeter of stardom: He's been in movies like Todd Haynes' glam-tasticVelvet Goldmine, Mira Nair's frightfully dull Vanity Fair, and Ang Lee's underrated Civil War flick Ride with the Devil (underrated=no one likes it but me). For some time now I've allowed Rhys Meyers' astonishing beauty to distract me from the fact that his acting is lacking (I am deeply shallow), but if you're going to play the lead role in a major motion picture, come-hither eyes and a luscious mouth just aren't enough. His performance as the amoral Chris is tedious and wooden, a fatal blow as he's in nearly every scene.
To be fair, no one in Match Point's decent cast is used effectively, including Johansson as the increasingly screechy mistress, Mortimer as the obsequious yet demanding wife, and Cox as the out-of-touch dad. James Nesbitt (Millions) and EwenBremner (Spud from Trainspotting) pop up at the end of the film as a law enforcement duo and actually liven things up a bit, but by then Match Point is beyond redemption.
Match Point is the prolific Allen's 36th feature film in nearly 40 years of filmmaking, and I have to admit I was looking forward to it. I've enjoyed the less-Woody-ish entries in his oeuvre (Sweet and Lowdown, maybe Bullets Over Broadway), as well as, of course, Annie Hall, arguably his definitive film. But Annie Hall is nearly 30 years old at this point: Allen's output lately has been subpar (Curse of the Jade Scorpion?), and Match Point is no exception. The directing is serviceable, but the clumsy script is overflowing with clichés. The fact that he makes no moral judgments on his reprehensible characters may be construed as gutsy, but it seems like more of a copout.
All I'm saying is that Woody Allen should be held to the same standards that we lord over other filmmakers. Match Point has gotten rave reviews, with most critics heralding it as Allen's best work in 300 years, but it's reasonable to assume that if another director had served up this film, the referees would cry foul. In the past Allen has delivered some interesting insight into the behavior of his fellow man, but the message behind the ill-conceived Match Point seems to be that we are all selfish, deluded, or stupid. This is news? More importantly, this is art?
Match Point (R), directed by Woody Allen, is playing at Henrietta 18, Little Theatres, and Pittsford Cinema.