The Irish cliches flow like beer on St. Patrick’s Day in “The Matchmaker,” an innocuous hands-across-the-Atlantic brew that comes out flat from the spigot. Only the warmly skeptical presence of lead Janeane Garofalo gives this otherwise misfired comedy any distinction at all, and even she often seems as stranded as her character. Gramercy release looks to be a quick in-and-outer theatrically.
Garofalo plays Marcy, beleaguered assistant to Sen. John McGlory of Massachusetts (Jay O. Sanders), who is having problems with his re-election campaign. Hatching a desperate plan to secure the Irish vote, McGlory’s chief of staff, Nick (Denis Leary), sends Marcy off to the Emerald Isle, where she is to unearth any McGlory relatives or ancestors who can help promote the ethnic connection.
Unaccountably, the sharp, well-dressed young lady arrives in the coastal village of Ballinagra without so much as a hotel reservation, which is a problem since the town is preparing for its annual Matchmaking Festival. Not only does this event provide the excuse for an overdose of local color, but it makes the conspicuously single Marcy the center of attention for two professional matchmakers, Dermot (Milo O’Shea) and Millie (Rosaleen Linehan), as well as for part-time bartender Sean (David O’Hara), who attaches himself to her like a friendly stray dog.
Marcy makes the rounds of every pub and matchmaking party in the vicinity looking for any trace of the McGlorys, but must constantly report back to Boston by cell phone that she’s come up empty-handed. Seeking further leads, she and Sean make a scenic excursion to the Isle of Inis Mor in the Aran Islands, which proves memorable not so much as the site of the real beginning of their romance as for the brief appearance of a fellow named Jimmy Keogh playing an irascible old coot named O’Hara; hilariously curmudgeonly, he’s the most vibrant and authentic character in the picture.
Finally, McGlory and Nick become so distraught over the candidate’s poor standing in the polls that they show up in Ballinagra, determined to invent some McGlory relatives if no real ones can be found. If the entire script were any more believable, the departure of a candidate during the heat of a campaign would raise serious credibility problems, but in context it’s no more far-fetched than anything else in the film.
That Aussie director Mark Joffe (“Cosi”) is entirely unsuited to this sort of conventionally warm, humorous romance is nowhere more apparent than in the attempts at physical comedy, which could not be more lamely staged. Garofalo and O’Hara never seem right together, preventing any rooting interest in the development of their relationship, while the utter bankruptcy of McGlory as a worthwhile politician is another turnoff.
At one time, this project may have been envisioned as a modern, sex-reversed version of John Ford’s classic “The Quiet Man,” but the result falls so far short of the mark that such an idea could still be attempted with no fear of duplication. The only thing that keeps one hanging in there is Garofalo, whose game personality squares off well with the succession of adverse predicaments her character must face and whose no-nonsense ripostes often neatly show up the blarney of the Irish folk she meets.
Given the widescreen treatment of the rugged locations in western Ireland, pic is disappointingly drab visually. Given the lightweight material, soundtrack of diverse tunes comes on too strong.