Matchmaker, The (United States/Ireland, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The production notes trumpet The Matchmaker as "a romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies." This statement implies that the film has something exceptionally original or daring to offer those who are tired of screen love affairs that follow a predictable trajectory from point A to point B. In fact, it's false advertising. There's nothing remotely special about the romantic component of this picture -- it's strictly boy meets girl, boy loses girl due to a silly misunderstanding, and boy gets back together with girl in time for the end credits.

So why would anyone who hates romantic comedies like this one? Presumably because the film makers believe that Janeane Garofalo is the type of atypical leading lady who will attract a more cynical audience. And, while this might have been true before The Truth about Cats and Dogs, Garofalo is widely remembered for her role as Abby the animal lover, and her presence in another romantic comedy will not surprise anyone. Indeed, she shows the same unselfconscious charm in The Matchmaker that made her character so irresistible in Cats and Dogs. The primary difference is that the script for this film has a confused sense of what it wants to accomplish, and, as a result, director Mark Joffe (Cosi) is unable to utilize Garofalo's talents fully.

The film begins conventionally enough. Garofalo plays Marcy Tizard, the tireless political aide to Senator John McGlory (Jay O. Sanders), who's running for re-election in Massachusetts. He's behind in the polls, however, so his campaign manager, the hard-bitten Nick Ward (Denis Leary), comes up with a new strategy that involves sending Marcy overseas to the town of McGlory's ancestors, a place called Ballinagra in Ireland's County Galway. While there, she's supposed to find a few of McGlory's relatives (the intention being to bolster his support in Boston's Irish American community). Marcy isn't thrilled about making the trip, but, since she has no life, she agrees.

While the setup may be a little long-winded, it succeeds in getting Marcy to Ireland, where she arrives in the midst of a matchmaking festival and is presented with the opportunity to find love with one of the locals. (Of course, as with most romantic comedies, we know who her match is the moment that we see him.) Unfortunately, instead of just allowing the story to coast along through familiar romantic comedy terrain, the film makers choose to bring back the political sideshow during the final half-hour. This might have been okay had the material been well-written, but it's all trite and derivative. The Matchmaker's script doesn't offer one observation about the American political process that hasn't been presented many times before, frequently in better movies. Worse still, as this aspect of the plot attains pre-eminence during the closing twenty minutes, Marcy and her romantic situation are crowded out. Maybe the reason romantic comedy haters are supposed to appreciate this film is because, after a hour's buildup, the love story gets shortchanged. At the precise moment when Marcy and her would-be Irish beau, Sean (David O'Hara), should be The Matchmaker's focus, they're standing off to the side.

Despite the uneven and potentially-dissatisfying screenplay, there are still a few reasons to see The Matchmaker, chief of which is a trio of finely-tuned performances from Garofalo, David O'Hara (who has appeared in the likes of Some Mother's Son and Braveheart), and screen and stage veteran Milo O'Shea, who plays Dermot, the local matchmaker. Also, since the movie was shot on location in Ireland, a dash of the local color and scenery gets thrown into the mix, and there don't seem to be as many stereotypes as one might normally expect from a production of this nature.

Had The Matchmaker been better focused, it might have resembled The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain with gender and location changes. However, while the romantic stuff here works, the unsavvy and unappealing political material proves to be a constant irritant (and leads to the film's worst moment -- a short, preachy speech on ethics delivered in strident tones by Garofalo). As a result, the movie's marriage of true love and cynical campaigning turns out to be less than a match made in heaven.

Matchmaker, The (United States/Ireland, 1997)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 1997-10-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1