Posted: 09/02/1999

 

The Matchmaker

(1997)

by Del Harvey




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The Matchmaker is a ‘soft’ romantic comedy with a feminist (Janeane Garofalo) central character who struggles in her job as an aide for a Massachusetts Senator (Jay O. Sanders). Garofalo is almost too obvious a choice for this role. Although she has appeared in numerous supporting character roles, The Matchmaker is actually only her second lead acting outing. She rises to the occasion admirably, managing to give us a character who is all at once a feminist, strong, independent, funny, and cute. This is becoming almost a stereotype for Garofalo, who has portrayed similar characters in The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Clay Pigeons, Mystery Men, and others.

In The Matchmaker she is sent by Sanders to Ireland to unearth his long, lost heritage. This idea springs from the slippery mind of the Senator’s snake-oily advisor Denis Leary, forcing Garofalo to struggle between what she believes in and having to do every shit job that Leary throws her way. She arrives in Ireland during the annual matchmaking contest, an age-old tradition whose current champion is the lyrical Milo O’Shea.

Garofalo’s arrival in Ireland is where the film comes to life. The people and culture provide a whimsical backdrop to otherwise irksome situations for our heroine. Garofalo’s feminist seems to be truly a fish out of water; a perfect comedy formula waiting to happen. The local womenfolk who partake of the annual event have been herded into a bus like cattle, wide-eyed and giggly, apparently oblivious to their fate. But as the story unfolds, and Garofalo eventually meets her ‘match’ (David O’Hara), it becomes apparent that the menfolk are not as in control of themselves or their surroundings as tradition would have us believe. It is the women who express the greatest moral strength, intelligence and common sense.

O’Hara and his brother provide slapstick sketches throughout the film, including a nice sequence in which they attempt to drive a very small car together, both with casts on their broken legs. The women indulge in a few of these shenanigans, showing what good sports they truly are, but generally are the first to act ‘adult’ in any given situation.

Eventually the Senator comes to Ireland to check up on Garofalo’s progress and he is quickly pulled into the matchmaking event (Leary suggests it would cement their relations with the locals; Sanders ends up meeting his next wife). Everyone, it seems, becomes a player in the matchmaking, except for Leary, of course, because he is in the film only to round out the full compliment of comedic characters and he is much too dense to even understand love.

On the surface, The Matchmaker would seem to be a simple, light-hearted tale of the difficulties of modern romance. It is the deeper message of the individual’s need to express their independence and protect their sense of self that gives the film its true meaning, as well as making it a more difficult work to market for a big film company. Considering the cast, this seems ridiculously contradictory to what any current popularity poll would suggest, but film companies are notorious for their occasionally excellent marketing skills, and more often than not baffling in their inability to understand their own product.

In the final analysis, The Matchmaker deserves to be seen, for all of these reasons, and because it is a good, solid little film.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and a veteran of the Walt Disney Company, Lucasfilm, and the Directors Guild of America.



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