That Scarlett woman puts us through a volley of emotions…
A man marries into a rich family and falls for his brother-in-law’s fiancee, but it’s not without a hitch.
Match Point 2005 Trailer HD | Woody Allen | Scarlett Johansson, Trailer Chan, Photos © DreamWorks Pictures
When does a Woody Allen film, not feel like a Woody Allen film? When it’s Match Point (2005). This film is a psychological thriller, that Woody Allen based on the novel Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Other critics compare this film’s love triangle, plot and characters (with some changes) to A Place in The Sun (1951), a film which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Lansbury and Montgomery Clift.
However, I would argue Match Point is a film where Allen tributes the acclaimed director and writer Alfred Hitchcock. This film – which Allen wrote and directed – is one a list of many films (and TV Shows) with Hitchcockian elements. Hitchcockian is defined as those elements and plots as inspired by films and television from Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Suspense.
Other Hitchcockian film examples include a Danny De Vito directed 1980s comedy, Throw Mamma from the Train (1987) where characters played by De Vito and Billy Crystal swap murders. This movie plot echoes the plot for Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951). Shades of Rear Window (1954) are seen in Disturbia (2007) but in a plot when Shia LaBeouf’s character witnesses a murder while he is under house arrest.
In another thriller movie – without giving the major spoiler away – an actor starred as a cross-dressing villain with murder on his mind in Dressed to Kill (1980). This is just one of the many Psycho (1960) plot devices seen in this Brian De Palma movie. Match Point also has a lengthy list of elements, so with a Hitchcockian checklist in hand, I watched Woody Allen’s film.
This thriller starts with a short narration from our protagonist, a young Irishman, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who compares life to tennis. This with a visual metaphor of a tennis ball landing on the net during a rally. Wilton believing that life – like this ball – is a matter of chance, in that can fall in your favour or not. This he says is like this tennis ball dependant on where it falls, on your or your opponent’s side of the net. This meaning you win or you lose. Chris stating he’d rather be lucky than good.
Chris is a one-time professional tennis player who moves to London from a modest background in Ireland. He gets a cheap flat and then a job at a prestigious tennis club as a coach. By luck, one of his clients is the terribly English upper-class Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). The two men fall into an easy friendship as they talk about their mutual love of tennis and opera over a drink at the 18th hole.
Tom invites Chris to join him on a family trip to the opera the following evening. On meeting the Hewett family, Chris is an instant hit particularly with Tom’s parents, Alec and Eleanor (Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton). He also meets Tom’s pretty sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer) who takes a bit of a fancy to him.
After joining the Hewetts for lunch at their country house, Chloe and Chris play tennis together and strike up a friendship. The Hewett’s home is beautifully put by Roger Ebert as
“big enough to welcome two Merchant-Ivory productions at the same time.”
Chloe playfully mocks Chris as “poor boy from Ireland” and they make a date for her to show him the London art galleries. He stresses he wants to pay for their date but she insists she will pay, with him offering to give her free tennis lessons in return.
Cue this pair in a montage of London landmarks, that you might recognise a few sights from if you a native, or watched Murder is Easy or The Legacy. The two then have an apparent affection and attraction growing between them. They snog in the cinema and end up sleeping together on his sofa bed. Then after they start dating, things get complicated.
On a visit to the Hewetts, Chris meets the voluptuous Lola Rice as she is playing table tennis with a fellow guest. Lola (Scarlett Johansson) is a budding actress and a very attractive American blonde. Chris is instantly attracted to this pretty girl and he makes an obvious pass at her (almost immediately). Getting up close and personal, he then shows her how to hold a table tennis racquet. He flirts with her much more than he should,
Him : So, tell me, what’s a beautiful, young, American Ping-Pong player doing mingling amongst the British upper class?
Her : Did anyone ever tell you, you play a very aggressive game?
Him : Did anyone ever tell you, you’ve very sensual lips?
Then he discovers she is Chris’ fiancee and they are going to be in-laws. Tom tells Chris that his mother does not approve of Lola due to Lola’s humble background, but he tells Chris he is serious about his fiancee.
However, Eleanor does seem to approve of Chris and Chloe. Alec finds him a job in one of his companies at his daughter’s suggestion. Chloe tells him if this job goes well, her father will find a way to promote him. Chris begins to enjoy this new career and lifestyle and later it is more than evident how much he likes this way of life as he extols about it to a friend.
Chris falls in love with Lola. The two young Hewetts and their partners spend time together in London, meeting for dinner and trips the cinema. At a dinner with Lola and Tom, Chris often seems more distracted by the outgoing and bubbly Lola, than the much plainer Chloe. He manipulates Chloe to spend time with this couple just to see Lola and is disappointed when she doesn’t join them on a cinema trip.
One day, he bumps into Lola in London. He offers his support by accompanying her as she goes for an audition and waits outside for her. They head to the pub after her audition and his attraction for her is obvious. Lola tells him he can go far in his relationship with Chloe, as long as he doesn’t fuck things up… by making a pass at her.
Lola seems quite loved up with Tom telling how when he met her – “he honed in on me, like a guided missile.” – and how overwhelmed she feels by his presents. Lola is more flirty and open about her life and Chris seemed more than hooked.
The two couples spend time at the Hewett family country house and go on s shoot with their potential in-laws. One rainy day, Eleanor gets a wee bit snippy with her future daughter in law about her choice of career. Tom and Alec stick up for her, but Lola leaves the room and goes for a walk to be alone.
She’s followed by Chris, who confronts her in a wheatfield and tells her his strong romantic feelings. The two then give in to their passions by making wild, passionate love there and then. After this event, Lola wants to move on as if it didn’t happen, but Chris hopes for an affair. Chris and Chloe get married and the pair move to a palatial flat on the Thames.
Tom announces he’s broken up with Lola as he’s met someone else (who his mother does approve of). Chris tries to contact Lola but can’t reach her. Chloe is now intent on having a baby with Chris and wants to have one as soon as she can.
This throws Chris into a life of her constant sexual demands in her quest to have a child. Chloe seems obsessed in becoming a mother. Her demands increase after Tom gets married as his new wife is already pregnant with their child.
Chris arranges to meet Chloe at an art gallery and spots Lola as he enters the building. He engineers a way to “meet” Lola and discreetly asks for her phone number. The pair then embark on a passionate affair. Chris is distracted by his feelings for her at work and at home.
Chloe asks him if he is having an affair which he denies. In time Lola, wants him to leave Chloe for her. She phones him at the Hewett’s country home and tells him she’s pregnant… and demands he tells Chloe about their relationship or she will.
When looking at Match Point from a Hitchcockian perceptive, this film ticks many of the boxes with some Hitchcock familiar tropes. Many Hitchcockian attributes discussed are listed in Wikipedia. These are highlighted in italics as I discuss their relevance in this film.
This film was set in London, with many famous London landmarks seen throughout the film. These include the Royal Opera House, the Tate Modern Gallery and many more famous landmarks are seen in the montage which shows Chloe’s first date with Chris. The presence of famous landmarks also seen in many Hitchcock films, such as the presence of Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959).
Much has been written about Chris’s development in this film as a Hitchcockian character. However, I believe that the most prominent Hitchockian character in this story is Johansson’s character of Lola. She seems much more than a blonde who treated badly by others in this film.
Lola’s story is developed from her first appearances a girl who hopes to social climb by marrying into the Hewett family to scenes which provide more moments in suspense for this character. Hitchcock’s love of blonde leading ladies is seen in his casting choices including Kim Novak, Janet Leigh and Grace Kelly.
The film shows Mrs Hewett as a domineering mother who hopes to influence her son, Tom in his choice of partner. This type of mother seen is commonly seen in many Hitchcock movies such as Marnie (1964), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). In Match Point, Tom’s mother’s attitude towards Lola is shown in her speech and behaviour.
Eleanor doesn’t approve of her future daughter in law due to her background and career as a struggling actress. This clash causes tension in the family due to her behaviours towards Lola. Eleanor treats her as a gold digger with no future prospects.
Although Chris also comes from a humble background – he is made more acceptable in Eleanor’s eyes – by having him marry her daughter and join the family business (and hopefully produce some children). It is also interesting that as a parent she is seen in many of the scenes with these couples, with her seeming more judgemental of her children’s partners and interfering than Alec, her easy-going husband.
I also felt that Lola showed that her character was in time was unable to be trusted. Chris was also guilty of this trait. Chris seemed quite content with his relationship with Chloe until he met Lola. In Lola’s first meeting with Chris, he was flirty and later when he told her his feelings, they made love in the wheatfield. Once Lola found out she was pregnant, Chris could not trust Lola to keep quiet about their affair and their baby. Issues of trust are also seen in 1959’s Dead Weight (an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents)
Despite her turning down an affair with Chris when she was dating Tom, once they broke up, she switched sides showing another side to this character as she then started an affair with Chris. This Hitchcockian element which shows a change in character was also seen as the sweet, demure pregnant housewife kills her unfaithful husband in his TV Series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in Lamb to the Slaughter (1958).
Towards the ending of the film, events unravel in a dramatic way showing characters in scenes creating tension and suspense and leading to a climactic plot twist. There are many moments like these in Hitchcock’s films and TV shows. Many of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents characters are seen in moments of suspense during the episode.
This was also seen in an Alfred Hitchock directed episode of Suspicion named Four O’Clock. This plot shows as a man sets a bomb to kill his wife, but then the circumstances change unexpectedly putting his life in danger.
Again without giving the ending away, the lead up to the final credits in Family Plot (1976) keeps you enthralled until the final scene. I won’t tell you which Hitchcockian elements contribute to the ending of Match Point, but if you have seen the film, you will understand.
More of the pertinent Hitchcockian devices used in this film are listed here. But the ones which are seen in the later scenes – after my cut off in the review – will only be recognised if you have seen the whole of this film. Other Hitchockian devices include the use of maguffins, stairs (to create suspense), darkness, shadows and inept policemen.
Finally, in a film role she took seven years later, Scarlett Johansson starred as the real-life actress, Janet Leigh. This was in a bizarre twist that I’m sure Hitchcock would have approved of with Johansson playing this actress in the film Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock’s film biopic. Or maybe that’s just down to luck.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
Hitchcockian Blogathon 2020 No 17
This post was added to For The Blog of the Darned‘s Hitchcockian Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Scarlett Johansson in Captain America’s Civil War, Hitchcock, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Prestige and Lost in Translation. Emily Mortimer in Shutter Island and Notting Hill. Matthew Goode stars in The Crown. Brian Cox stars in Frasier, Penelope Wilton appears in Doctor Who. Hitchcock’s filmography reviewed here and referred to in this post are North by Northwest, Four O’Clock and Family Plot. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes reviewed here are Dead Weight and Lamb to the Slaughter. His biopic is reviewed here in my review of Hitchcock.