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:Woody Allen in London

Match Point by Woody Allen
Starring Scarlett Johansson. Emily Mortimer, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Rob Cottingham

Y
ou have to hand it to Woody. For the past 30 years, he has been known for his pure, unabashed love of New York. His best movies, appreciated not only by the most serious critics but by the general public also, were celluloid valentines to the Big Apple.

But two years ago everything changed when Allen announced he would be making a London based movie, filmed and set in the Capital, the first time Allen had ever shot a movie outside of New York. The BBC put up the money, and gave Woody Carte Blanche to shoot the movie how he liked. The only condition they allowed such creative freedom was that the movie would feature British actors, which it does, but for the fact that Scarlett Johansson filled the role that Kate Winslet was due to take. Any rumours that Match Point would be a whimsical romantic comedy of errors in the style of Richard Curtis are proved untrue: it’s a serious and philosophical work showing a newfound maturity in Allen’s career.

The story runs thus: Chris, a Tennis Instructor with ambitions far beyond his station is coaching players in an upmarket West London Tennis club, when he is given the chance of training the son of a wealthy gentleman. A connection is soon established when Chris announces his love for opera, and he is invited to attend a lavish production of La Traviata, wherein he meets the rest of the family. Chris soon catches the attention of their coquettish daughter (Emily Mortimer). At the same time, he meets the seductive fiancée of Matthew Goode, an American actress (Scarlett Johansson) considered to be an unsuitable match for Goode by the mother in particular. Whilst Chris and Chloe continue their relationship, Chris realises his amorous intentions to Nola, and manages to carry on deceiving Chloe with Nola. Meanwhile, Cox becomes increasingly generous towards Chris, first buying him a flat by the Thames, then giving him a high – profile position in his company. Chris and Chloe are married, and things seem to be going well. After three months, Goode announces to Chris that he is no longer seeing Nola. Time passes. During a visit to the Tate Modern, Chris spots Nola, tracks her down and demands to see her again. Soon he is playing a risky game, taking time off work to meet Nola for sex. When she falls pregnant, he finds that he cannot tell Chloe. When it becomes clear that she won’t remain silent, Chris has to take things into his own hands.... with devastating consequences.

The plot of Match Point as described above seems complicated, but it’s actually very simple. It could be boiled down to – poor chancer with ambitions charms rich family but is almost brought down by a destructive femme fatale. Some will call it Jamesian after another American who wrote about arrivistes in the English Upper Classes. There are also nods to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But in terms of films, its Hitchcock that it most resembles, with the central murder plot coming out of Strangers on a train.
The first Act seems to be concerned with the trappings of wealth, which have never been on display so covetously. Chloe’s father can give Chris everything he wants materially, seats in the royal box at the opera, a chauffeur driven Jag, as well as one of the best positions in the firm, but he cannot give him Nola, the person Chris wants above all others. Against Nola, poor Chloe doesn’t stand a chance. Indeed, Nola represents the dangerously seductive females that all Allen’s heroes seem to be attracted to, against their better judgement.


Woody and Scarlett
So is Match Point a win or a lose? To me it’s neither. The screenplay, originally intended for an American film with American actors, contains lines that no Brit would ever say, such as Chloe’s ‘’So you’re a poor boy from Ireland come to London,’’ or Chris managing to utter ‘’What’s a beautiful young American Ping-Pong player doing mingling with the British upper class’’ to a bemused Johansson.

As well as these clunking solecisms, Allen also seems impervious to British class nuance. I can just about believe that Chris would have been invited to the opera, if only on behalf of the family as a thank-you. But it’s highly doubtful that they would be so unguarded as to welcome a complete stranger into their lives, much less to encourage him to marry their daughter. Yet this is what drives the film along, and the film manages to get past these obstacles, just as a horse is coaxed to fitness by being made to jump higher hurdles.

The film really takes off once Chris starts seeing Nola behind Chloe’s back. Yet inspite of his moral deficiencies, we are behind Chris all the way, perhaps because Chloe and her family are so appallingly vapid. Against the soundtrack of ‘’Una Furtiva lagrima’’ Chris schemes to murder Nola to cover up for their affair. Whether he gets away with it or not, I can’t say, but the film heads towards a stunning conclusion that suggests that life is dependent on luck as much as anything else.
Cheers, Woody, its good to have you back.
© Rob Cottingham

See also A Woody Allen Primer by Rob Cottingham
Melinda and Melida
Rob Cottinham review


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