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NEW YORK — Playwright/filmmaker Stephen Belber returns to sex, lies and audiotape in Match, the adaptation of a play that, like his earlier work Tape (itself adapted in 2001 by Richard Linklater), is a three-hander in which people try to trick each other into owning up to long-buried transgressions. Sunny and open where Tape was sealed up tight, this film is less psychologically gripping; while it offers some provocative moral quandaries, it serves mostly as a showcase for Patrick Stewart, playing a Juilliard dance teacher whose past has come back to haunt him. His performance should ensure that attention is paid at arthouses.
Tobi Powell (Stewart), who has settled into cozy domestic solitude after a globe-spanning career as a dancer, barely knows what to do with himself when a grad student named Lisa (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Mike (Matthew Lillard), come to interview him about his early days. Non-dancers nibble on carbs, don’t they? Then by all means, we must have “party mix,” whatever that is, on hand for the questioners.
Flustered by the attention and his efforts to be a charming host, Tobi doesn’t see what we do: Gruff Mike, no ballet fan, is impatient for the conversation to turn in a different direction. But as questions about the licentious ’60s grow more specific — not just about everyone screwing everyone, but about when exactly this gay man had an affair with one particular woman — Tobi realizes that Lisa isn’t his actual interviewer. Mike believes Tobi is his father, and is so emotionally damaged he’d rather trick out a confession — he’s a cop, after all — than put the facts on the table and ask.
Things get very ugly in a scene where Mike forcibly takes a DNA sample; the action got laughs from this crowd, but it’s a rape, and it sets the tone for fallout after Mike storms off to get the sample tested and Lisa is left to apologize for how badly things have gone. Gugino and Stewart work well together, the former slowly revealing the isolation she feels being married to a man who has spent a lifetime dwelling on his mother’s being abandoned by his father. Stewart projects more sensitivity than one should be expected to muster after being violated in one’s own home, and the film enjoys some comic relief as the two commiserate about the lack of intimacy in both their lives. The emotional landscape has changed a great deal by the time Mike returns.
In ways best not explained here, it hardly matters at all whether Tobi is Mike’s father or not. At some point, the older man confesses, it is possible to love and regret the life one has lived simultaneously. It’s simply one’s life. Belber’s handling of the final scenes accepts this notion a little too easily, with Mike adapting implausibly well to new revelations. But despite its broad empathy, the film isn’t really about Mike. Tobi, the man who may or may not have done something very selfish 40 years ago, continues to be the center of attention.
Production: Permut Presentations
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard
Director-Screenwriter: Stephen Belber
Producers: David Permut, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal
Executive producers: David Beitchman, Adam Brawer, Chris Mangano, Nick Morton, Larry Kopeikin
Director of photography: Luke Geissbuhler
Production designer: Chris Trujillo
Costume designer: Sarah Mae Burton
Editor: Madeleine Gavin
Sales: Permut Presentations
Not rated, 91 minutes
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