Janeane Garofalo plows right through The Matchmaker with the same disgruntled sarcasm that typifies her testy, standard-bearer-for-the-underdog persona. Yet, try as it might to cast "America's favorite anti-star" in a "romantic comedy for people who don't like romantic comedy," this film is a wholesale retread of Local Hero (which, in turn, borrows from Brigadoon), and plays on genre conventions that Garofalo's defensiveness all but disallows. Overwrought maquillage and a few respites from the permanent scowl do not a romantic lead make.
Garofalo plays Marcy Tizard, a single-minded political professional bent on re-electing a U.S. senator from Boston. With the prospects of her candidate, John McGlory (Jay O. Sanders), waning, chief of staff Nick Ward (Denis Leary) dispatches Marcy to Ireland to drum up some long-lost McGlory relatives who might help secure the much-needed Irish vote back home.
Marcy arrives in the pokey town of Ballinagra just as the annual Matchmaking Festival begins, and her search for McGlorys mostly turns up unwanted suitors. Still, she tirelessly seizes the platform in pub after pub, inquiring as to anyone who might know the fabled McGlorys. In the course of her search, Marcy can't help but come across the town's two rival matchmakers, Dermot (Milo O'Shea), who runs the local tanning parlor, and Millie (Rosaleen Linehan).
The weeks wear on as Marcy shuttles back and forth between the antiquated phone she uses to keep the senator apprised of her progress and the local pub, where the townsfolk while away the hours. Sean (David O'Hara), the brother of her innkeeper, ushers her around town on her quest; gradually his guileless, playful nature challenges her cool detachment, causing Marcy to reconsider where to draw the line of moral compromise or integrity in her professional life and of vulnerability in her personal life. Though her allegiances and perspective ostensibly evolve, ultimately she forsakes her newfound openness until it catches up with her.
The film clearly intends to depict cosmic truths, in its moral dilemmas and bedroom bedlam, through folky wisdom. Marcy becomes increasingly amenable to relationships, ever more aware of her boss's duplicity, and eventually questions her foolish assumptions about small-town dwellers. But in the end not a whole heck of a lot emerges from the mist overhanging this western Irish seaside town. Not to blame our out-of-towner, but the narrative is told from her point of view, and hinges on her effect on the town and vice versa.
In one particularly noteworthy scene, for instance, Marcy learns of the death of an elderly resident with whom she'd established a rapport; her stoic "oh, no" reaction is almost laughable. On the other hand, she tries to abide by the maudlin nature of the story with an openness to the charms of small-town life so simple-minded as to bring to mind Julia Roberts. Unlike the measured warmth Garofalo brought to The Truth About Cats and Dogs, it fails to charm.
All told, the film's texture resembles the flat, wet, craggy topography of the moors on which it is set. Local Hero maintained a sense of irony about its characters, allowing them subtle shifts away from their defining characteristics while still hovering within the bounds of a small and charming film. The Matchmaker attempts to impart that quaint feeling, but its broad strokes and predictable plot keep it from working. It ends up sharing at least one thing with the proposed Scottish constitution: a self-importance that merely window-dresses the rigid colonialism to which it remains shackled.
Written by Karen Janszen, Louis Nowra, and Graham Linehan; directed by Mark Joffe; with Janeane Garofalo, David O'Hara, Denis Leary, and Milo O'Shea.
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