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Arts & Entertainment

Palm Springs Film Festival: Patrick Stewart's comedic talent lights up 'Match'

Actors Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard and Sir Patrick Stewart pose at the
Actors Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard and Sir Patrick Stewart pose at the "Match" screening during the Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 3, 2015 in Palm Springs, California.
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for PSIFF

Is there a happier star in Hollywood than Patrick Stewart?

Certainly no one seems to be having more fun than the onetime Star Trek captain and current (and seemingly permanent) X-Man. And why shouldn't Sir Patrick be pleased with himself? He really has got it all: a thriving stage profile in both New York and London, the unconditional love of a vast and loyal fan base, and a film career that oscillates freely between franchise blockbusters and the small, character-driven chamber pieces Stewart so clearly relishes.

"Match" is about as small a movie as Stewart has ever appeared in: a well-intentioned three-character film studded with very funny dialogue courtesy of writer/director Stephen Belber, upon whose play "Match" is based.

Stewart plays an aging gay dance instructor named Tobi Powell, who may or may not have sired a child back in the swinging 60s – an era movies now take to have been 10 years of uninterrupted orgy punctuated by Beatles records and gunshots aimed at the Kennedy brothers.

As the saying goes, "If you can remember the '60s, you weren't there." Stewart's Tobi Powell was vibrantly there at the time, so it's perhaps natural that he can't seem to recall whether or not one of his rare couplings with a female partner might have had some unintended consequences.

Mincing slightly and speaking in an accent that sounds Midwestern by way of Wales, Stewart is an absolute blast to watch. His genuine (and usually underutilized) flair for comedy is roguishly on display, allowing "Match" to shift between pathos and farce with an assurance born more of the performer's bravado than the emotional contours of Belber's somewhat overeager text.

Though allegedly a bit of a shut-in, Tobi is a minor masterpiece of a lost and exuberant art form: the exaggerated star turn. It's unsurprising Frank Langella got a Tony nomination for playing him on Broadway a decade ago, and at least a bit unexpected that Stewart has gone completely unnoticed this awards season, even by the nomination-happy Golden Globes.

Belber's best writing is mostly his comedic stuff. One aria comparing cunnilingus to knitting may just be the best scene of its type since Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in "When Harry Met Sally" a quarter century ago.

Solid and believable supporting turns from Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard add to the fun until Belber's script bogs down in the third act into the kind of paint-by-numbers epiphany shtick even TV has given up on at this point.

WATCH: The official trailer for "Match," starring Patrick Stewart

Everybody cries. Everybody changes. Everybody yawns.  Or I did anyway.

Still, go see this movie — or better yet, watch it on your phone, since it's shot almost entirely in close up — to see a grand and gracefully aging actor strut his stuff with contagious delight. You will definitely laugh, and, God, does this movie hope you'll also cry.

But if you do weep, don't be surprised if, like Tobi himself, you hate yourself in the morning.

Off-Ramp contributor R. H. Greene is covering the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, where he recently saw the new comedy "Match" starring Patrick Stewart. "Match" comes to theaters and video-on-demand on Jan. 14.