Posted by Joel Copling on February 3, 2015

All of the inherent drama in writer/director Stephen Belber's "Match" is in the lines of Patrick Stewart's face, the hesitation in Carla Gugino's mannerisms, and the incomprehension of Matthew Lillard's expressions. This is a film that defines "minor effort," but it is an affecting one. Belber's screenplay is a chamber drama and not much more than that. Delicate framing and attentiveness toward what makes his characters tick lift from being a one-note experience, and a great deal of the leg work is done by these three actors, each of whom is on top of things in a big way. There might be an easily predicted mystery at the heart of it, but that doesn't matter when these actors sell the stakes of the situation.

Stewart in particular gives a fascinating performance as Tobias "Tobi" Powell, a ballet instructor in New York City. He is a flamboyant personality, uneasy in the company of others but enthusiastic all the same. The actor, keeping his by-now-famous baritone but throwing some flavorful NYC inflection and vulgarity into the mixture, avoids caricature by focusing a startling amount of energy on the minutiae of Tobi's eccentricities. It shouldn't be hugely surprising, given that the character voices his determination to instill discipline into his students' dance routine. This is strong work from one of the great actors in cinema, who manages the impressive feat of disappearing into the role.

Tobi is a ball of nervous energy upon meeting Mike (Lillard) and Lisa Davis (Gugino), a married couple whose female half is currently writing a dissertation on the history of dance, specifically as it pertains to the 1960s. Tobi is happy to give a lengthy life story, as long as the couple is willing to indulge in marijuana. As the questions grow more curious and specific, the couple's real intentions are made clear, and the proceedings take an awkward turn toward the airing-out of differences, the naive accusations of people with real regrets and anger, and the small acts of forgiveness that are equally necessary and difficult to make.

And all of that drama--which would be insignificant in a film with less on its mind--is etched in the faces of its three terrific actors. Aside from Stewart's idiosyncratic and unexpected turn, Gugino has her time to shine in the final half-hour as Lisa comes to grips with the realization that she hasn't been happy in ages, and Lillard's Mike, whose profession we learn in possibly the film's biggest and most awkward laugh, is a fragile man hiding behind the veneer of a tough-guy attitude. These little human traits expose the core of the characters in whom we are meant to be invested, and the microscope under which Belber examines their frailties is a precise one. Predictability is nothing compared to laser-like precision in "Match."

Film Information

Patrick Stewart (Tobias Powell), Carla Gugino (Lisa Davis), Matthew Lillard (Mike Davis).

Directed and written by Stephen Belber.

Rated R (language, sexual dialogue, drug use).

92 minutes.

Released in select cities on January 14, 2015.