If spending 90 minutes drinking wine and talking about sex with Patrick Stewart in a gorgeous, cozy Manhattan apartment sounds like heaven, good news: Match is your new favorite movie, because that’s basically all it is. (Side note, if that description doesn’t appeal to you at all, I wish I knew how to help you, but I just don’t. I’m sorry. Godspeed, though.) Whatever it was that made you fall in love with the man— his Picard, his Professor X, his Shakespeare, his Twitter— this film is a different kind of look at him. It’s quiet and flawed and above all, intensely intimate.
Stewart plays Tobias (Tobi, he insists, to his friends), a ballet instructor at Juilliard who is equally demanding and encouraging with his young students. He is well-liked, if deliberately distant, turning down invitations from colleagues for weekend trips and chatting up the owner of his favorite restaurant. He makes amazing-looking dinners which he eats alone and then knits in bed (an admitted replacement for the lots and lots of sex he used to have). In short, he is a rich, complex, unusually real character.
Tobi is nervously awaiting a visit from Lisa (Carla Gugino), a dance historian working on her dissertation who’s traveling across the country to interview Tobi about the dance community he was a part of in the 60s. She shows up, though, with a mustache attached to Matthew Lillard’s face that goes by the name Mike. Mike, a bottled-up cop, is wholly out of place in this scenario. While Lisa seems to enjoy Tobi’s tales of the freewheeling, sex-filled 60s, as well as his constant drinking and occasional pot smoking, Mike coils up tighter with every orgy story. If something doesn’t seem off from the start, it certainly does the closer Mike gets to snapping. Patrick Stewart rambling about ballet and casual sex would be enough to fill an entire film on its own, but there’s something else here, some deeper mystery that Mike and Lisa are clumsily circling. And as the movie sinks into that darkness, all three characters crack open in three separate, spectacular directions that make it clear why each wanted to be a part of this film.
This movie is about as un-splashy as they come. Chances are, no one is going to get much recognition from this project. It’s currently playing on three screens in the US, and I was one of five audience members at my opening weekend matinee. (Granted, it was also released a few days later on VOD.) But it’s there’s no question why all three incredible actors signed on. Writer/director Stephen Belber created the kind of characters actors dream of. We’re so used to seeing Patrick Stewart as superheroes and space captains; even when he does theater, he plays big characters— Shakespearean kings and ghosts, or Beckettian clowns. To see him play a regular man, with depths and neuroses present but realistically contained, is a joy. And Gugino and Lillard both play their roles spectacularly. They may not be able to compete with Patrick Stewart, but then again, they’re not trying to. They’re doing something special in their own right. Both characters hold so much inside, so tightly, they have a seemingly insurmountable amount of unaddressed baggage keeping distance between them. This is, beyond anything else, an actors’ movie. Belber’s method as a director seemed to be to invite captivating performances, and then get out of their way. In that way, the film feels more like an intimate piece of theater, which makes sense, since he adapted it from his own Tony-winning play. This movie is the perfect antidote to the Oscar buzzy grandness we’re drowning in right now. It isn’t out for awards, but it will hang with you long after you’re done watching it.
Plus, Patrick Stewart dances. Just a little bit, just barely, but it happens.
Seriously, are you sold yet?
Vivian Kane decided early on that she would watch a full 90 minutes of just Stewart yelling at ballerinas.