The Matchmaker. Janeane Garofalo's [The Truth About Cats and Dogs, "Seinfeld"] is a geographic treat to watch. After a few minimalist scenes of Boston, you are off to the Galway Bay area of Ireland, including a trip to famous Aran Island. On this trip you combine the hypocrisy of American politics with the intimate lives and surroundings of a small Irish village and its people.
The basic storyline finds Marcy Tizard (Garofalo) as an aide to a Senator running for re-election, and not doing very well. Senator McGlory sends Garofalo on a mission to find his Irish relatives in a desperate attempt to make him seem more Kennedy-like, thus gathering in more votes in Massachusetts.
The geography now begins. Garofalo arrives to a rainy greeting, finding herself taken deeper and deeper into a more non-urban environment. The vehicles of small, the roads become narrow, and the traffic rare. Ballinagra, her destination, hugs the road and the hills.. It shows the age of Irish villages and the lack of modernity. It has wooden buildings that open on to a sidewalk. The hotel is family run and steeped in another age. It is not a Ramada or Holiday Inn. There is a clear sense of age and some disorder.
But something is strange about the village. It is filling with buses of men and buses of women. Garofalo has landed in the middle of a matchmaking festival. The search for McGlory's begins, complicated by the fact that Dermot (Milo O'Shea), a matchmaker, wants to couple her with someone.
In the coming scenes we get to see the interior of Irish pubs and lounges, stores, and houses (cottages). The cottages are of traditional Irish construction. Their interiors are simple, like the clothes of their owners. They are restful. The pubs are places of crowds, dancing, drinking, hope, and searching. Outside, the clouds never go away [reflecting the slight lift of North Atlantic Drift air]. The landscape is striking. The hills are prominent. The soil is rocky.
Of special note is a visit by ferry to the Aran Island (Inis Mor). The Aran Islands have a gloomy emptiness. The struggle of its settlers to turn barren limestone rock into a habitable place must have been monumental. It is like North Dakota late in the afternoon on a near winter fall afternoon, before the snow paints it white. The light casts shadows that make it seem empty. It seems haunting. Aran is a treeless, rocky place with fields built up by the work of its settlers. Indeed, the soil that is found in some places is totally imported. The fields have stone fences and look unproductive. It is a place of escape from British imperialism over the centuries, here an escape from even the village and its light press of people. The characters get the time to talk out in a place of oppressive emptiness. The edges of both round and connections begin.
An ultimate geographic question is being asked by the film in another context: is one escaping or finding "life" when one leaves the urban core to live in the rural area? Garofalo is beaten up by urbanity from the first time her face is on camera. She has that urban edge of skepticism and doubt. She is pushy. Yet she is drawn to the country. Sean Kelly (David O'Hara) , her love interest, is a reporter who has given up on city life to pursue writing in the village. Her edge shows when she meets him. She calls him "Paddy." Then she has to apologize saying she thought everyone was called "Paddy" in Ireland. Sean has left the urban world and the film proceeds to work on her interest in following along.
Is she escaping? Is he? Well, the answer is obviously no. The pathway is eased by the discovery of technology in the remote corner. It bothers her that she is remote from her world. She says, "It's so beautiful here. If it just had the New York Times, it would be perfect" and "I long to fax someone." Sean has a notebook computer and fax machine. [The notebook could even be a Mayville/Valley City State IBM Think Pad, it is not clear]. Another computer pops into view at a surprise spot. The vast beauty of the region and the attractiveness of rural living contrast with a lack of sophistication in most residents, who make the screen and the primitiveness of it all. Yet technology's presence signals that it is a part of the postmodern world. Early modern comfort with postmodern communications, the combination greases the path to rural happiness.
One problem with the film as a learning tool is its "R" rating. Profanity is constant. You do get the same word in two versions of English, yet it is massively used. On the other hand--and not going as far as to rate it acceptable--, the profanity comes from both the early modern and postmodern characters. It crosses the urban-rural continuum. The film has good entertainment values, but probably makes the "date movie" list. That Garofalo is the star sort of puts it in that category.
[Joffe, Mark (director). 1997. The Matchmaker. film. N.p.: Gramercy Pictures.]
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1997. Media Beat: The Matchmaker. Dakota Alliance November-December 1997: 5-6.