A Load of Balls: Angst-Ridden Veteran Makes a Hash of His London Debut

By Segal, Victoria | New Statesman (1996), January 9, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Load of Balls: Angst-Ridden Veteran Makes a Hash of His London Debut


Segal, Victoria, New Statesman (1996)


Match Point (12A)

Woody Allen might have made a career out of his neuroses, but his demons should be appeased by the amount of goodwill he is still capable of generating. Forget the scandals, ignore the lacklustre films such as 2004's Melinda and Melinda--there is still a desperate desire to see the best in Allen's work. Given how frequently it has been heralded with such excitable benevolence, Allen could have given his latest award-winning film, Match Point, the subtitle "a return to form". His first film set in London, it boasts a young, pretty, something-for-everyone cast. As entertainment, however, it just slams limply into the net every time.

Shave away the goodwill and the relief that nothing could ever be as bad as his 1997 film Deconstructing Harry, and the best you can say of Match Point is that at least Allen is not actually in it, creepily romancing his new female lead, Scarlett Johansson. It sets itself up to be a work of huge moral and philosophical depth, an exploration of the idea that hell is not so much other people as our own weak and evil selves. Yet it's not long before the viewer starts to feel trapped in a hell of Allen's making.

At first, it's hard to predict just how ludicrous things are going to get, because Match Point starts off like a low-key version of the tennis comedy Wimbledon. Then, suddenly, it makes a Wile E Coyote-style lurch into bloody melodrama as it cannibalises the plot of Allen's earlier film Crimes and Misdemeanours. The antihero, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), is "a poor boy from Ireland" whose tennis skills have given him access to the finer things in life. He is charming, he likes opera and in one scene he is even shown reading Crime and Punishment. There are motorway service stations signposted with more subtlety. It is not long before his charms arouse the interest of his pupil Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who introduces him to his wealthy mother (Penelope Wilton) and father (Brian Cox). Soon this hungry outsider is spending nights at the opera with his rich new friends, courting Tom's sister, the sweet but needy Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and being groomed as a son-in-law and company man. Unfortunately, Chris quickly becomes besotted with Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), Tom's American fiancee, and their torrid affair threatens Chris's new-found security.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For all the excitement about the new lease of life Allen has found in a different city, you have to wonder how a man who has made New York look so wonderful can make London look so grim. …

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