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Janeane Garofalo loots and pillages a quaint Irish village for nonexistent laughs in The Matchmaker.

By Coury Turczyn

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  There's a certain sense of liberation that some movies inspire like few others. It's a sensation that transcends the typical movie-going experience, a physical reaction that goes beyond merely being entertained. You'll be sitting in that darkened theater about halfway through the movie and suddenly be struck by the unique combination of writing, acting, and directing on the screen before you. And then the realization hits home: This pathetic piece of crap is not going to get any better.

Soon after, that impulse for liberation envelops you: Flee. Run. Get the hell out of the theater and stop wasting your time. Yes, you'll lose whatever you spent on tickets; yes, it goes against your movie-going conditioning to leave before the film's over; yes, it's a lonely walk up that empty aisle amid a sea of curious faces. But you must take a stand! And once you do, you'll immediately feel a sense of inner tranquillity: You may have been ripped off, but you were strong enough to leave before being insulted any further.

Only a few select films have entered my pantheon of walkouts. There was Maid to Order, in which Ally Sheedy's fairy godmother turned her into a Malibu maid to teach her a lesson in humility; Straight Talk, in which James Woods made love to Dolly Parton; Cool World, in which...well, I'm still not sure what happened in Cool World. Don't get me wrong—I enjoy terrible movies as much as the next cynic; there's something morbidly amusing about watching some hack's earnest vision of drama turn completely absurd (ahhhh, Showgirls!). But these movies aren't merely bad; they're devoid of any fragment of humanity.

Now, another film has joined the woeful ranks: The Matchmaker.

The Matchmaker is about nothing (but not in the way a good episode of Seinfeld is about nothing). It's ostensibly a romantic comedy crossed with the quaint-Irish-village sub-genre. Janeane Garofalo stars as Marcy Tizard, a political aide to a Massachusetts senator running for re-election. She's sent to Ballinagra, Ireland, to research her candidate's ancestry in order to ensure his victory. Whaa-aat? Yes indeed, this is the main point upon which The Matchmaker's plot hinges—somehow, if the candidate can prove he has a genuine Irish heritage, he'll be swept into office. Ah, such dark satire!

Once Marcy makes it to Ballinagra, she tries to go about her business but keeps getting distracted by the quirky locals and their Matchmaking Festival. You see, these humble townsfolk are so charmed by the condescending, insulting, mean-spirited Marcy that they want to see her fall in love. Consequently, town matchmaker Dermot (Milo O'Shea) sets her up with Sean (David O'Hara), the local hunk who gave up PR for bartending—and she falls for him! What other surprises could The Matchmaker possibly hold?

The biggest shock is why Garofalo—surely a smarty pants, if nothing else—would choose such a pointless script to star in. Her character's only defining personality trait is that she rolls her eyes a lot. She has no backstory, no inner conflicts, no personal goals. Her main interaction with other characters consists of saying sarcastic things that aren't really that funny. (Example: "How does it feel to be so stupid? Is it like being high all the time?" Wooooo!) Garofalo's appeal as a comedienne is that she spits out the snappy rejoinders we all want to say—but in The Matchmaker, her bitchiness has been rent of its charm because none of her one-liners are witty. All that's left is a horrible grouch.

This might have been amusing if her grouch had been let loose amid a quaint Irish village filled with real characters—but all we get are caricatures that wouldn't make the cut in the infinitely superior Local Hero. These quirky villagers are so cute, so cloying, so fake, that they all simply adore Marcy—thus avoiding all the friction that might have made for an interesting story. O'Hara is the only actor to bring any life to the proceedings; even though his character is such an obvious set-up (he turned his back on PR just like Marcy wants to!), he's at least believable—but why would he want to shack up with such an Ugly American as Marcy? Wonders never cease.

Unfortunately, even though all this is just dreadful, The Matchmaker isn't so terrible as to be amusing. It's just numbingly mediocre; nothing about it stands out in any way. Whenever a movie is "Based on a Screenplay" by one person, then proceeds to have three other writers for the actual screenplay, that should be warning enough that the final product is going to be weak. I read that Garofalo left the theater halfway through The Matchmaker's premiere; too bad she didn't do the same thing midway through reading the script.

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