A romantic comedy may seem like a natural format for, say, Julia Roberts or Jennifer Aniston, but Janeane Garofalo? The comedienne best known for her grim countenance, deadpan delivery and cerebral asides hardly seems right.
But as Garofalo proved in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, it's precisely her gravity that anchors a featherweight comedy like The Matchmaker. And in the moments she lets her guard down and a full-face smile emerges, she and the film just glow.
In the midst of a difficult re-election campaign, the aides to Sen. McGlory (Jay O. Sanders) are in a bind. The notoriously slippery McGlory can't seem to stand firm on any issues, so in a ploy to bring about some positive press coverage, McGlory's unctuous chief of staff (Denis Leary) cooks up a plan. Campaign staffer Marcy Tizard (Garofalo) is dispatched to a small town in Ireland to locate his relatives for a family values photo-op.
When Marcy arrives in Ballinagra, she's right in the middle of a flurry of curious activity. It's the annual Matchmaking Festival, and a determined professional matchmaker named Dermot (Milo O'Shea) makes a beeline for Marcy, anxious to hook her up with one of his many clients.
But Marcy has already uncovered the town's surly cynic, Sean (David O'Hara), a former journalist in Dublin who's returned home to live an ambition-free life.
In a variation on Bill Forsyth's lovely (and superior) 1983 film Local Hero, the single-minded Marcy soon discovers her real goal is quite different from the one she set out to accomplish.
Australian director Mark Joffe effectively uses the locations on Ireland's west coast and Arran Islands to help tell the story, showcasing the rugged beauty without resorting to postcard prettiness.
Unfortunately, with three authors, the script feels written by committee, and has a few plot holes big enough to drive a lorry through. But this doesn't entirely undo The Matchmaker's inherent charms.
A lively cast and a rakish sense of comedic fun -- where clichéd images of Irish life are both celebrated and cleverly subverted -- ultimately shine through.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.