Fifteen-love and fuck the faux neuroses, says Mia, spying the nude polaroids of Soon-Yi. I think you'll find that's love-fifteen, says Woody, smirking sadly, adopting the contrary stance of the melancholic comic ready for a messy rectal exam of his complicated metropolitan lovelife. The rest of the match descends into tabloid headlines, righteous posturing and legal semantics. Woody marries his kind-of-adopted daughter and makes a few substandard movies again (the curse of the prolific?) and eventually the crowd gets bored. Until Scarlett 'rent-a-muse' Johansson gets ready to pout for the publicity shots and he signals match point.
Match Point? It was supposed to be an American movie but the backing fell through, right? So Woody crosses the Atlantic into the beckoning pockets of the arthouses of Europe where his status remains that of a hit-and-miss auteur rather than a borderline paedophile. He's been told that the BBC will fund the film if there's a British cast (naturally, they don't mind him bringing the irresistible Scarlett, as long as the Americans promise to try and keep Kate Winslet in LA rather than London). He makes a few adjustments and shoots the same script in England. Except, he forgets to fully participate in the making of the film. Sure, his name gives the branded white-on-black (what is that font?) opening credits their familiar 'written and directed by' closure, but the film is missing any of those Woody Allen qualities that can elevate slight narratives like Alice and Hollywood Ending into something worth seeing. Did he shoot the film while suffering from cataracts, diahorrea and Alzheimer's? Match Point simply isn't worth watching.
Why not? Well, there's too much emphasis on fucking telephone calls for a start. It reminds me of that story Derrida tells in The Post Card about the American student searching for a subject for her comparative literature thesis. Derrida, grasping the potentially threatening significance of the telecommunications revolution for students and teachers of literature, suggests something that deals with the telephone in Proust whereupon she recoils in disgust at focusing on something so mundane. Since then (the late 1970s) I guess the use of the telephone in Woody Allen films has already found a PhD student. Maybe they'll recall (sorry) Tony Roberts phone-obsessive in Play it Again, Sam, and use that as a starting reference to measure how far Match Point falls short of the phobic deconstruction of contemporary film clich?©s that usually animates the dialogue and action from Sleeper to September, Love and Death to Husbands and Wives and beyond. Grafting a formulaic Richard Curtis version of the machinations of the middle-and-upper classes of an ersatz England onto some lacklustre drama involving cursory allusions to Crime and Punishment and Tom Ripley etc., leads little lord Woody into truly woeful and wayward screen territory.
As the line in the cockney knees-up says, maybe it's because I'm a Londoner that I hate Match Point. It's not just because of the failure of representation that New Yorkers will recognize from Woody Allen's often hermetic portrayal of New York. It's that in this specific instance the skewed representation is not redeemed by the script and the acting. The London sections are shit, and not just through using the dodgy device of an upscale Marylebone mansion block as the crime-ridden crash-pad of a poverty-stricken struggling actress. The country house sections are shit, and not just because Robert Altman has already crafted a more honest homage to Jean Renoir in Gosford Park. Each of the film's 134 minutes gets flecked with these excremental traces of a fundamentally crap project. As the soundtrack and setting sometimes indicates, Match Point aspires to be opera but ends up more like an extended special of a deadly dull soap opera.
And I'm a serial Woody Allen fan. Not just of those 'early funny movies' that he mock-dismissively references in Stardust Memories but of the whole welcome-to-the-Woody-Allen-Weltanschauung. There were times in my late teens and early twenties when girlfriends accused me of trying to shape my life like I was living in a permanent remake of Annie Hall or Manhattan. He is one of the few directors who I catch without fail whenever a new film opens. In recent years, I've sat through Kenneth Branagh and Jason Biggs both doing their turns as the lead without feeling like I was wasting precious minutes of my life. But Match Point was a total waste: inane plot development, superficial characters, lame dialogue. Just compare it against the maturity and depth found in Crimes and Misdemeanours, a film made from similar material. Or compare it to Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Now that's a real tennis-and-murder movie.
Curiously, Woody Allen's worst ever film is also movie of the year in the outsideLeft reader's poll.
Henderson Downing has written for various literary journals and small press magazines, he lives in London