WARNING: This entry contains spoilers for the movie Matchstick Men. If you care about that sort of thing then you shouldnt read this until youve seen the movie. (It is definitely worth seeing, by the way.)
On NPR this weekend I forget which show they were talking about Matchstick Men and how it was about partly about a father discovering and getting to know the teenage daughter he didnt realize he had. This makes sense if youve seen the previews, but once youve seen the movie you realize that thats not at all what the movie is about. Its actually about a con man falling for the mother of all cons. She aint his daughter. Ive also seen Matchstick Men referred to as a buddy movie, which again makes sense based on the promo material but is, in fact, completely false. As Roy discovers, Frank isnt his friend just a protégé who uses his skills to dupe his teacher.
Something weird and a little unhealthy is going on here. Obviously, early reviews and discussion about a film shouldnt give away its ending. This makes it difficult to talk about Matchstick Men, or other movies that include suprirse reversals. But since the media machine demands Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood.com, NPR, and Charlie Rose to say something, we get this situation where theyre talking, not about the actual movie, but about the general impression of the movie created by its own promotional materials. Basically, theyre discussing the preview.
The movie is about parenthood to a certain extent Roy definitely believes himself to be a father, and Angela, despite the fact that shes running a con, embraces her daughter role wholeheartedly. (We know this because there are scenes with her when Roy isnt present. Alone in his house, she doesnt drop character, but frolics curiously around, eating ice cream.) Theres actually a delicate interplay among roles, perceived roles, false emotions, and stifled emotions that informs all the characters and gives the movie surprising depth for a con-job comedy. The only problem with that, from a media perspective, is that you cant talk about it right away. Its a shame that the response to that fact cant be not to talk about it right away. Sadly, the laws of hype demand otherwise.