…or at least, the most SURPRISINGLY bad film.
(Yes, I’m answering the question I posed below, and I’m going to write a review)
This film was so bad that had I spent money I would have wanted it back. With a gift voucher as a goodwill gesture, from God, to make up for the loss of time incurred in the course of my life. At the same time I was completely fascinated, on tenterhooks, not because of the plot but because I was waiting to see whether it could actually get worse.
It was not bad in the way that Showgirls or Boom! is bad. In fact, the experience of its badness was much more akin to watching a piece of bad theatre than anything else.
OK so the film I’m talking about is Matchpoint and it was written, produced & directed by Woody Allen. It starred Jonathan Rhys Myers and Scarlett Johnansson and some other people. That woman who was in Young Adam (I usually like her as well).
I suppose I should say, SPOILERS, for anyone thinking of watching this, but can I just say – don’t? Or rather, DO, but only so I can have someone to talk to about the totally dispiriting feeling that envelopes a person afterwards.
I haven’t watched a lot of Woody Allen films but I have never come away from one before feeling so thoroughly soiled. To make things worse, I watched this film straight after watching Manhattan for the first time (they were shown back to back on the cinefil imagica channel) and it was shocking to think that these two films were made by the same person. What the hell happened, Woody?
As an artistic experience I think Matchpoint ranks up there with that Romeo &J performance we were forced to sit through on the Writing for Stage course (the production where they were sometimes dressed as Fascists, sometimes as Mafia members from Goodfellas, which featured the Italian flag being lowered melodramatically and in complete seriousness onto Tibult’s body).
This film made me at first amused, then bemused, annoyed and finally rather disbelieving as to its utter awfulness. It made Eastenders look like Shakespeare. The actors were quite wooden & completely miscast but above all it was the script & plot which were so bad. I quite honestly wonder if W. Allen made the whole thing as a joke. Watching it straight after Manhattan, which was ok, made it all the more depressing, as there is that suspicion (could he have…? & didn’t anyone say…?) that this film was made in utter earnestness; which means that somewhere between the two films Allen’s artistic sense became completely corrupted, for to have made this film seriously & think it good one would have to be the most doltish beginner. Yes I say that despite never having written or made a film – but it really is because I am so SHOCKED.
I don’t think I am a filmgoer with especially high standards – I do like well written scripts but it doesn’t always stop me watching something if the script is bad. Usually there is some compensating factor. At least. Or if the script is not good, then there are usually times when it at least patchily competent. Even if not, then maybe it is so bad it is funny or at least doesn’t take itself too seriously. For example – I like Bad Girls and Footballer’s Wives. I know they are TV shows but the point’s the same. The plots are ludicrous but they don’t claim to be good in the sense that they aren’t making a claim to high art.
This film seemed to have…pretensions. The main character quotes Sophocles and reads Dostoevsky (I think there is supposed to be a reference to the fact that the plot is a refutation of Crime & Punishment). This despite the fact that there ARE no books in his apartment. So – on certain levels, the film assumes (or attempts to assume) a type of sophistication in the viewer. Yet the dialogue, character & scene development are the most terrible schlock, and worse, the expository speeches the characters make IN EVERY SCENE are extremely patronising.
It got to the point where it was being done so much & so often, even by several characters in the same scene about the same expository point of the plot, that I thought, “how can this not be deliberate? Is it some kind of meta-fuck you?” eg. The scene where the family find out about Nola’s murder, then phone each other up, and we are treated to exactly the same repeated, banal dialogue by each one (‘Terrible tragedy, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a drug murder, apparently. Did you read it in the newspaper? Yes, I read it in the newspaper just now. Did you read it in the newspaper? Yes, I too, was reading the newspaper just now when I saw it and called you at once. Isn’t it a terrible, terrible random tragedy?’ etc etc)
My question (oh, I have so many questions) is, how can the writer of Manhattan and the writer of Matchpoint be one and the same? For IF Woody Allen did NOT mean Matchpoint as a private joke or something, IF he actually thought it was even competent on any level (for it fails on every one; plot, character, dialogue, action, even background, even PROPS and SCENERY, even MUSIC – all of them horribly off-key and distractingly bad in their own way. It even fails on quirks, incidental notes) – then I must sadly speculate that he is perhaps suffering some sort of illness, or at least the debilitating effect of drinking or drugs. Even just while he was making this perhaps. How could he (some would say, genius, but above all original, different, never cliched except in the sense that he repeated his own created cliches) have made this thing, so very stale, so very cliched, so very wooden? It is baffling! I had to keep watching through sheer, perverse wonder, all the way through I was thinking – ‘where’s the punchline?’
And as it dragged on, and on, and grew worse, and still worse, until it became farce yet never lost its apparently straight face. I was left wondering: was this the most subtle comedy ever made? Like an intellectual dog whistle, was the joke too cerebral for me to get? Because nothing in this film made sense – no incident was too small to be without its own annoying ridiculous redundancy. For example – the brother-in-law gets married, to a wife we never hear speak, although she is in a few scenes. In another scene, Rhy-Meyer’s wife mentions in passing that her brother has had a baby with his new wife, yet this fact is never referred to again, nor is the child in evidence, even though we see the family gathered together for family occasions, one of which is the birth of the sister’s baby where they are all toasting this new grandchild etc etc. What are we supposed to think? Was this a mistake? Why mention this extra child at all – it bears no relevance to the plot whatsoever? Just a throwaway comment? Then why did no-one think to mention the odd non-appearance of the said child?
Above all, this sort of sloppy incidental plothole is by no means the only one in the film. Most of the dialogue which doesn’t relate to the main story line –and even much of that which does – has the same odd, throwaway, unchecked feel. It’s not realistic, slice of life, but it doesn’t work as drama either. But so sloppy, so careless, so many loose ends and continuity errors/bloopers! How CAN this be Allen’s work? Which is what makes me think it is a joke…but if that is the case, then the joke must be on the viewers…
The thing which underlines the strange crapness of this film is James Nesbitt’s character, right at the end – the policeman who wakes up having dreamt the solution. Is this some sort of in-joke, because I did NOT get it. Anyone who has seen this film, and knows more about Woody Allen’s films than me, please let me know. Sample dialogue: Nesbitt; “I want to know the truth, but it’s difficult to find out much more without causing trouble for a lot of people.” Another copper; “I know. Well, we’ll just have to hope the answer falls into our laps.”
And WHY did there have to be about 50 different policemen on the case (OK, three or four, but it’s still too many considering this is right at the end of the film, and they only appear for a really short time)?
All in all, then I would say:
best moment of the film: the cameo appearance by that one off League of Gentlemen who played Glen in Nighty Night. He appears for about 0.5 seconds as Scarlett Johnansson’s previous ping pong partner in an aristo country house and is never seen again, nor is any explanation given for his presence (though the scene between SJ and JRM that follows is hilariously bad.) Nevertheless, this guy manages to pack into that 0.5 seconds more character development than any of the film’s “real” characters. I like to think that he had a whole backstory as a mad inbred cousin; if you see the film, watch what he does with his mouth and how he lays the pingpong bat down on the table and you will see what I mean. I am actually not joking about this.
worst moment of the film: everything and everybody else.
UPDATE: After writing this review, I went over to imdb to read some of the reviews there (where it has gotten an unbelievable 7.8 stars) to try & find out what I am “missing” about this film. The reviews seem to be pretty much divided between love & hate, which is intriguing, although I couldn’t find much in-depth analysis of why there were so many plotholes. But I did find one review which said:
“This is a great film. One of Woody Allen’s best. There are many, many people who complain of plot holes in this film. What they are talking about are not really plot holes. They are LIFE holes. The events such as the police not investigating Nola’s (alleged) pregnancy is maddening.
That however, is not a shortcoming of the film, but instead one of it’s strengths. Chris Wilton was a very, VERY lucky killer in that there were many ways he could – and should – have gotten caught. But, due to a seemingly open and shut case, and a lazy police department, he emerged completely unscathed.
In a way, Woody Allen’s manipulation of the audience to an almost angry state over this fact is the mark of a master.”
-so this person is saying that the plotholes are deliberate, and that is WHY the film is good…hmm. I just don’t think so. Although I can see now that maybe that could have been the intention behind them – i.e. that they are there to emphasize the “theme” of the film, which is to do with luck being all and justice being an illusion. If that is the case then this is one nihilistic film and indeed it IS a meta-fuck you. Not only because of the philosophical point being made either. If the plotholes ARE intentional, then I wonder if the rest of the jarring faults are too, including the cardboard characters, stilted unrealistic dialogue etc. If these things are in the film in order to make a point about artifice and triviality, I’m not at all sure that it works. Although, if that was what Allen was trying to do then at least there is a vision there. I’m just not sure what it is, the pointlessness of cinema or some depressive’s view about the trivial and arbitary nature of psychology, even the flimsiness of fiction? I don’t think I buy it.