dir-scr Stephen Belber
prd David Permut, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal
with Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard, Jaime Tirelli, Geoffrey Nauffts, Rob Yang, Daphne Fernberger, Antonia Rey, Maduka Steady, Gregory Korostishevsky
release US 14.Jan.15, UK 12.Oct.15
14/US 1h32
Take the test: Stewart

gugino lillard
flare fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Match With a bright, cheeky tone that shifts into something much more intense, Belber adapts his own stage play. Largely set in one room with three characters, the story is somewhat pushy and deliberately confrontational as it uses issues like sexuality and vengeance to propel a very personal story. But it's also moving.

Julliard dance teacher Tobi (Stewart) is smiley and demanding at work, and values his private life. But he has agreed to be interviewed by Lisa (Gugino) for her dissertation. She arrives from Seattle with her husband Mike (Lillard), and Tobi recounts a series of stories about his stellar career as a dancer and choreographer, including his romantic conquests and ex-wives. But Mike seems unnaturally interested in Tobi's sex life, trying to make him admit that he's gay. And Lisa admits that her research is about sexuality. But they're really after something else entirely.

Mainly because this is scripted in such a theatrical way, Lisa and Mike's unspoken agenda is obvious from the start. When Lisa brings up one of Tobi's old flames, it becomes clear that one of them believes they are his long-lost child. Where this goes gets rather shouty and melodramatic, with explosions of long-suppressed rage and regret. More interesting are the awkward but warm private scenes between Tobi and Lisa, as well as the extended theme about making up for past mistakes.

Stewart is bubbly and positive, relentlessly outspoken about everything, a lively raconteur who uses buoyant bluster to obscure his own crippling insecurities. Even as the story conspires to push him to the brink, he maintains the character's centre beautifully. Gugino is nicely complex as a woman who has second doubts about her behaviour and finds an intriguing bond with Tobi. Lillard has the more thankless role as a cruel, angry hothead with serious issues, although the script allows him to find some texture in the end.

Belber only barely expands this beyond the stage, but uses astute camerawork to circle around the characters and make the most of the single setting in Tobi's spacious flat. The story grapples with expectations and sexuality in charged ways that are provocative and rather scripted, but they give the actors a lot to work with, drawing out some deep emotions along the way. And the issues involved are so personal that the film can't help but resonate.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 6.Oct.15

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