The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win…or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.
That line is taken from the opening narration from Match Point, Woody Allen’s new film and his return to glory. I am well aware of luck. It was a major factor in my getting the assignment to cover the premiere of Match Point at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. When the offer was available, I immediately requested it without knowing what the task would entail. I made contact with the Dreamworks rep and he informed me that I would get “a spot on the line for Red Carpet Coverage and two tickets for the screening.”
I was excited, but had no idea what I was in for. The Red Carpet?! Was I really going to be among the huddled masses of paparazzi and interviewers, covering this event of the famous and rich like Marcello Rubini from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita? What had I gotten myself into now? I am great in conversations, but not always good about getting one started, especially with strangers. What the hell was I going to ask these people? Definitely nothing about who they are wearing. Maybe I should ask about the business and if being here is part of the job requirement? Dare I be a smart ass like Stuttering John and ask ridiculous and embarrassing questions that combine world affairs and personal hygiene?
I brought Senora Bicho along as my +1. The press set-up was 6:30 pm. Of course, traffic was more brutal than usual. To travel the 42 miles from my home to LACMA took almost three hours, meaning we traveled at a rate of 14 mph, which isn’t as settling on the nerves as one might imagine. I got to the Will Call table and they didn’t have my name. Ugh! I’d been burned before at events and it would certainly be understandable to lose out on this huge opportunity since I’m representing a small fish in the pond of entertainment. I asked if the passes were under the site’s name and was told I wanted the press check-in. The woman handling press told me I had to be escorted down to my spot. Two guys from Reuters checked in after me, so I felt fine.
“That’s it for the press,” a woman with a walkie-talkie yelled. “People are starting to arrive.” I asked about the press passes and screening tickets and got a blank look in return. I knew it was in the email, but I had no weight to throw around. Plus, I didn’t have time to argue, as my escort was ready.
She walked us down the carpet to our spot at the far end. Some of the photogs must have been anxious because I had my picture snapped a few times. The Senora and I laughed. We were shown our place in the media pit between a reporter from Entertainment Weekly and an interviewer with video camera from Inside Edition. We asked our escort about the screening passes and she said she’d locate my contact. Being an amateur photographer, I pulled out my little Canon PowerShot S410 and hoped that the guys with the six-foot lenses would not point and mock. I handed my wife the notepad and began to move through the media pit, looking for unobstructed views.
First up was Lisa Guerrero, an actress who made a name for herself in sports as a sportscaster for The Best Damn Sports Show Period and a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football. She looked absolutely gorgeous in a black dress split open down the middle. I overheard her tell a reporter she was in the January 2006 issue of Playboy. I had no idea what the hell she was doing here, but obviously her people thought it was a smart business move.
An actress appeared but no one was sure who she was although everyone around us in the pit thought she was vaguely familiar. She looked good in an elegant black dress and wore white pearls. Senora Bicho said she’s the wife from The Sixth Sense. She must be in Match Point, so I scanned the poster for the cast. She looked like an Emily, so I figured she must be Emily Mortimer, but that didn’t seem right either. (Once we got home, I racked my brain trying to place her. All I could come up with is that I remembered her playing a wife or a mother, which narrowed down the list of potential actresses. The next morning, I awoke and it hit me that she is in Deadwood. Her name is Molly Parker. She is a very talented actress that I have seen in Pure as a mother and in Nine Lives as a wife.)
Then an explosion of sound. The roar slowly turned into “Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris.” I leaned over the metal barrier as far as I could and peered down the line. Chris Rock was the cause of the ruckus. Flash bulbs popped rapid fire as cameras snapped away. This frantic name-calling happened every time a big name showed up with the biggest obviously being for Woody. Chris wasn’t promoting anything, so he didn’t want to stop and answer questions, which seemed to puzzle and frustrate many pit dwellers. “I love Woody. Can’t wait to see the movie,” was all the reporters could get, and really what more did they deserve?
The red carpet has an interesting dynamic. “Nobody wants to talk to you if you are nobody” is a maxim that works both ways. I would see PR people do reconnaissance down the line, scooping out the signs for the big media outlets, so they knew where to send their clients. Blogcritics.org always caused a scrunching of the facial features and a “what the?” tilt of the head.
Luckily, everyone wanted to stop and chat with EW, so Senora Bicho was able to get an occasional question out. In comparison, no one in the pit wanted to talk to low-level celebrities who had no involvement with the film. Lucy Lawless looked great and was nearly unrecognizable with her curly blond locks and tanned skin, but that evening no one cared about her upcoming, low-budget horror film, The Darkroom.
Random celebrities showed up just to watch the film. I saw Sally Kirkland off at a distance. Old-time comedian Jack Carter walked down the carpet unnoticed by the pit as if he was someone’s great uncle. Camryn Manheim walked around the carpet. There was Janel Moloney from The West Wing, then Robin Weigert from Deadwood and of course the usual group of hangers-on and unnecessary Hollywood leeches formed in packs, glad-handing each other, promising to get together for drinks. There was even a reality star, Jennifer Massey, first runner-up from Season 2 of The Apprentice.
After a group pose when the cast arrived, they made their way slowly down the press gauntlet. The actual Emily Mortimer showed up and she was a delight. She wore a peach dress and stopped to chat with Senora Bicho. She talked about her excitement in getting the call, meeting Woody and getting the script although she was already to sign-up before reading it. She spoke about the first few days of working on the film, feeling as if she was in a dream because she couldn’t believe she was working with Woody.
Scarlett Johansson looked exquisite in her golden dress with ample cleavage. She was so radiantly beautiful that she nearly overwhelmed the senses with a power that could be used for evil if in the wrong hands. I wasn’t concerned about Scarlett asking me to run off with her and leave my wife, which I would have, because I was concerned about her asking my wife to run off and leave me, which she probably would have. Scarlett jokingly said her favorite part of working with Woody was that they got to eat Chinese food for lunch every day; the wonton soup being a special favorite.
The reporter from EW was annoying and a bit dense. Self-deluded into thinking he’s some sort of investigative journalist, he began asking Scarlett about projects other than Match Point.
This selfish ass wasted everyone else’s time quizzing Scarlett on The Nanny Diaries, which is pre-production, and Borgia which had just been announced. He even grilled her about Napoleon. She said it was in development and was way too early to talk about. Lucky for him, I was moving through the pit taking pictures or else I would have embarrassed him by asking Scarlett, “Can I ask you about this project?” and stealing her away from him.
The young male cast members worked their way down to us. Everyone wanted to talk with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, while no one seemed aware of who Matthew Goode was. Jonathan had a question and a request at every step. A photographer came over and asked for a picture of Scarlett and him.
A handler grabbed Jonathan to escort him away. Senora Bicho yelled out, “Was working on with Woody what you expected?” “More than we expected,” and then he was gone.
As the start of the premiere grew closer, the red carpet got more hectic. You had to move fast like sharks during a feeding frenzy. I ran through the clutter of power cords and light stands, snapping shots between the backs of heads.
As I returned Woody was taking to EW. Senora Bicho turned to me and asked for a question. I told her to ask if working with these young actors, no wait, with these British actors had an influence on the way he directed. A handler grabbed Woody by the arm and said the film was starting. Senora Bicho, fast becoming a savvy reporter over the past hour, shouted, “One question?” in Woody’s direction. He pointed at her giving the okay, but he was whisked into a crowd before she could speak. They dispersed, leaving only Brian Cox talking to a reporter.
The media packed up their gear. None of them seemed to be heading inside. If these big media outlets weren’t being represented, what chances did a blogger have? We found the woman who walked us down the red carpet and she said that my contact with Dreamworks wasn’t around. Ever forceful, Senora Bicho again stated that we were told there would be passes for us. I played it off, saying, “Well, he can’t hold me to a review if he didn’t put me on the list to get in.”
As luck would have it, the woman had two passes that her friends hadn’t claimed. Rather than see them go to waste, she was generous enough to give them to us. We thanked her and raced down the red carpet to the movie theatre entrance in case her friends walked up. The lights were out and the credits were rolling as we fumbled past people’s legs on our way to our seats.
Match Point is a slight departure from Allen’s usual motifs, but on a grander scale the themes are very familiar. The film is set in England and the jazz soundtrack has been replaced by opera, almost all of which is sung by Enrico Caruso. Opera is fitting because like so many of that genre’s tales, this film’s plot has tragic consequences.
Former tennis pro Chris has recently quit the tour and gotten himself a job at an exclusive country club. His first pupil is Tom Hewett. They discover a mutual admiration for opera, resulting in Tom inviting Chris to join him in his family’s box. Tom’s sister Chloe is immediately smitten with the good-looking Chris. They begin to date and Chloe becomes even more infatuated with him. The fact that he came from a poor background from which he had to work himself up intrigues her, although it’s not clear if she’s impressed or just relishes the sheer novelty.
She also enjoys the brooding bohemian aspects of his character: the listening to operas and reading of the classics like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment when most men his age would be listening to rock and playing video games. She sees his potential to be the husband she wants and sets her sights on him. She gets her father to give him a great job in one of his companies that he has absolutely no experience at. Chris enjoys Chloe and is content to go along with her plans.
Then one day as Chris is hanging out in the Hewett mansion, he stumbles across the stunningly sexy, Nola, a struggling actress from Colorado. He is immediately drawn to her and comes on very strong. She lets him proceed to chat her up and relishes the attention. Chris is so enraptured by her that he appears ready to throw everything with Chloe away. She informs him there is one slight hitch in his plans: her fiancé Tom, who walks in none the wiser. Chris’ attraction is unabated and he becomes obsessed with Nola, even as his relationship with Chloe grows.
The conflicts for Chris are universal. They are about choosing between submitting or ignoring his selfish desires, doing what he wants or doing what is best for others. Like a character in the tragic operas he loves, the chain of events he sets forth lead to dire consequences that are sure to disrupt the lives of everyone involved because every decision is affected by things out of his control. He ends up trapping himself in a corner that he himself cannot get out of.
Match Point is a reaffirmation of Allen’s talents as a filmmaker. I haven’t seen such a quality piece of work from him since Deconstructing Harry. His talented cast and crew bring to life a story that focuses on the forces of life that are both in and out of our control. The plot constantly shifts directions and remains one step ahead, yet it always retains the viewer’s interest. The resolution is satisfying because the plot is believably resolved while Allen presents a thematic worldview in a subtle way that is unobtrusive.
Allen’s team captures London on film the way they previously captured New York, choosing locations that are visually interesting and make the viewer wish to travel there. The acting is first-rate. The characters are real people that have believable conversations and motivations. Jonathan and Scarlett create electricity together. Their passion radiates off the screen and Scarlett looks more attractive than usual. It was great seeing Brian Cox in a different type of role as the patriarch of the family. A straightforward, likable fellow.
When the film ended, the room burst into applause. I now had a number of questions I would love to ask the cast and Woody. They have the whole red carpet thing backwards. Sure, it’s great for photos, but how can anyone ask any questions of substance without seeing the work first?
As we walked out, everyone headed to a reception. Senora Bicho asked if we should try and get in. I thought why not; the worst they could do tell us to leave. Besides after seeing such a great film, anything that happens after is a bonus. We headed over to one of the bars and got a drink. There was a great spread laid out with an assortment of dishes on many tables. A waitress walked by and offered us prosciutto wrapped around goat cheese with fig and basil leaf. I popped it in my mouth and when I bit down, not a single taste bud missed out on the enjoyment.
We continued to walk around the enclosed courtyard, seeing a number of the same faces that walked by us on the red carpet. A few tables away, we saw Emily Mortimer again. My wife laughed and considered continuing–
Out of the corner of my eye, I turned and saw Woody chatting with people. I was stunned. We were now in the same area together with no barriers between us except well-wishers and my awe for the man. A number of people Woody seemed to know were congratulating him: Chris Rock and a few older producer types.
Then, I saw comic Jim Norton from Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn walk up and talk with Woody. If he could go up, then the bar had lowered. We overheard a woman saying her grandmother had to meet Woody. That settled it. I got up my nerve and made my way to the back of the pack. People who appeared to know Woody barged right through. There was nothing to say to them, but I held my ground. I felt my wife’s hand at the small of my back, keeping me in position.
A security guard standing nearby was looking me over. I smiled at him, and he turned away without returning it. A few steps closer and I noticed the guard giving me the once over again, looking at my backpack. I smiled again because I didn’t know how else to inform the guy I’m not Travis Bickle.
I was just about at the front of the group when a reporter was brought around and she begun asking him questions. Woody turned back and I stepped forward. I shook his hand and introduced myself. I haven’t washed it since. It’s wrapped in a plastic bag, which has really made typing this a difficult task. I told him I thought the film was brilliant and asked if I could ask a question about the film.
“Sure,” he says.
A few elements of the plot I had found similar to Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of his best films. I had skimmed the beginning of a couple of articles about Match Point and they mentioned C&M as well, so I asked him what about those elements drew him back to explore the material again.
Time froze. I was able to step back from the moment, observe and appreciate it. What the hell is going on?! I’m having a discussion with one of my top three favorite American directors of all-time about his film. How cool is that? I’ll need to learn some basic French when the staff from Cahiers Du Cinema calls. What if Woody asks me to dinner tomorrow? I’ve already got plans. And just as I was planning my response to him suggesting we get together the next time I’m in New York, he punched me so hard in the gut that it knocked the wind out of me and I fell to one knee.
At least that’s what it felt like, but it wasn’t physical. The punch to my psyche was Woody telling me that aside from that one element I mentioned, the films are totally different. C&M was about faith and this was about luck and the role it plays.
Ugh! What an idiot. Why the hell was that my question? I should have come up with something better. However, I disagreed with him. There were other mutual elements. Chris and Judah get themselves into a similar situation and act to save their position, which is upper class, and their families. They struggle with what is the correct action. They are both able to justify and accept their actions. I had more, but he’s Woody Allen. He’s smarter than I am, he certainly knows more about the film than me since I had just seen the it 30 minutes ago and he’s lived with it for months, and he probably thinks I know nothing about film now.
I was thankful for the moment regardless and stepped aside so my wife could introduce herself and say how much she enjoyed the film as well. I was so contented with having met him that I had no desire to eat a meal. We grabbed some tuna tartar served in tiny cones of pastry as a waiter walked by. We decided to head home just as Woody was escorted out. Unlike Chris, I was definitely aware of the role luck played in my life this evening.
El Bicho is a member of The Masked Movie Snobs