The MatchMaker
directed by Marke Joffe
(Gramercy, 1997)

Boston politician John McGlory, desperate to find a "family values" hitch to salvage his rapidly dying campaign, sends aide Marcy Tizard to find his roots in Ireland. It's a weak foundation for a story, but the movie The MatchMaker works because of a strong performance by Janeane Garofalo as Marcy and some wonderful (albeit stereotypical) characters in the fictional Irish coastal town of Ballinagra.

Marcy arrives in Ballinagra just as the annual matchmaking festival gets underway. She is swept up by the charming people there despite her best efforts to remain aloof, and she presents local matchmaker Dermot O'Brien (Milo O'Shea) with a particular tough challenge. But old Dermot, who boasts a high success rate, doesn't give up easily. Good thing local boy Sean Kelly (David O'Hara) is back in town after separating from his wife in Dublin....

O'Brien's matchmaker fulfills a good number of Irish stereotypes, and O'Hara, a curmudgeonly genealogist played in a short but delightful appearance by Jimmy Keogh, lives up to the rest. Pub scenes are pretty much what you'd expect ... and the Irish aren't the only stereotypes here. Jay O. Sanders is two-dimensional at best as the bumbling Senator John McGlory, and Denis Leary is even flatter as his amoral campaign chief, Nick. Marcy is even somewhat stereotypical as the American tourist with an attitude towards her "quaint" hosts, but Garofalo has the charm, personality and presence to carry it off.

You'll see similarities here to films like Waking Ned Devine, also set in Ireland, and Local Hero, set across the sea in Scotland. In many ways, both films were more successful than The MatchMaker, but it doesn't fall far short. A few scenes -- the car vandalism, the "mock" McGlory family and the high-speed police response -- try too hard to be funny and aren't, but otherwise, The MatchMaker is good for a few laughs and a lot of grins.

The matchmaking festival is mirrored on the real annual festival in Lisdoonvarna, although the movie version seemed more fun. Although Ballinagra is a fictional town, I recognized parts of it instantly as Roundstone, a beautiful village on the coast of County Galway. Other portions were filmed on Inishmore, the largest of Ireland's Aran Islands. If you're a fan of gorgeous scenery, you'll see plenty of it here.

All in all, it's a grand way to spend 96 minutes with Janeane Garofola in Ireland.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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