Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to tell that a movie you’re watching had been first written as a play. While it’s a safe enough assumption to make of any super chatty film that spends the brunt of its running time in a single room with a small handful of characters, the origins of Stephen Belber’s Match (adapted from his 2004 Broadway debut of the same name) are only so obvious because he directs it like someone who doesn’t realize why that’s a problem.
Patrick Stewart is Tobi Powell, a legendary Juilliard dance instructor who seems afraid of human contact outside the confines of his studio. Delivering a high-strung performance that masterfully teeters between curious and insufferable, Stewart plays Powell with the same ADD theatricality with which Christoph Waltz might have played the J.K. Simmons role in Whiplash. Powell is fidgeting with nervous excitement at the thought of his interview with Lisa (Carla Gugino), a Seattle woman who wants to interview him for her dissertation about the history of dance. She’s brought along her husband, Mike (Matthew Lillard), to record the conversation. This being a story by the same man who wrote Richard Linklater’s bitter Tape, it’s safe to say that Lisa and Mike have ulterior motives.
The truth behind their trip is interesting enough, but the increasingly prosecutorial tone that Lisa and Mike use to question Powell tips the film’s hand long before it should share its secrets. It’s clear that Belber lacks the same control of his craft that his actors have of theirs—his camera is seldom used as anything more than a capture device, and so the story is anchored to its onstage origins. As Match wilts into a trite portrait of people who are at the mercy of their pasts, Belber’s menagerie of inexpressive shots leaves his film at the mercy of its own.
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