Movie News & Reviews

How KC-made ‘The Matchbreaker’ movie struggled to overcome death of its star

Singer Christina Grimmie was featured in “The Matchbreaker,” her first and only feature film, which was filmed in and around Kansas City. Grimmie was shot and killed in Orlando, Fla., in 2016 before the film was distributed. “The Matchbreaker” is now available on Netflix and on video.
Singer Christina Grimmie was featured in “The Matchbreaker,” her first and only feature film, which was filmed in and around Kansas City. Grimmie was shot and killed in Orlando, Fla., in 2016 before the film was distributed. “The Matchbreaker” is now available on Netflix and on video. .

“The Matchbreaker” should have been a promising start for a group of Kansas City filmmakers and their stars.

Instead, it became the most tragic of nightmares.

The romantic comedy, directed by KC’s Caleb Vetter, stars Wesley Elder as Ethan, a 20-something hired by various parents to break up their children’s relationships.

Along the way, Ethan runs into a singer named Emily, who turns out to be his long lost grade-school crush.

Emily is played by Christina Grimmie. It was the first feature film role for the former YouTube sensation who finished third on Season 6 of NBC’s “The Voice.”

In June 2016, after filming was complete, Grimmie was shot four times by a troubled fan as she was signing autographs after a performance in Orlando. Grimmie’s brother tackled the shooter, but the man broke free and used a gun to kill himself. Grimmie later died from her injuries. She was 22 years old.

“It sucked — it still sucks,” Elder said. “We’ve all said over and over we’d trade the movie to have her back.”

“The Matchbreaker” is now available on video, Netflix, iTunes and other services. Not only are the filmmakers locals — Vetter and his cinematographer brother Cory are from Leavenworth; Elder is a transplant from North Carolina — but the comedy was filmed in more than 40 locations around KC.

Among them: the Green Lady Lounge, the American Restaurant, Skies, the Kauffman Center and lots and lots of local parks. KC presented several advantages over other locations, Vetter said, most notably because of its people.

“In L.A., film is a business, and even if you own a coffee shop and that’s your business, your business is also film because that’s the town,” he said. “When you go to shoot there, they’ve got policies and things. When you shoot here, everybody goes, ‘Oh, this is great! Let’s have some fun with this.’ 

Vetter said they all had great expectations for the film before Grimmie’s death. A lot of other small independent films that starred someone social-media famous have done well because they’ve had their stars around to help promote the heck out of it.

“Had it been ready to go when she passed, it probably would have done much better,” he said. “But releasing six months after that, it’s kind of like everybody forgot about her and it was old news.”

Grimmie was killed the day before another Orlando tragedy: The shootings at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 and wounded 53 others. After that incident, the news of Grimmie’s death just vanished from public consciousness.

“It may have been good for her family that it did kind of disappear,” he said. “But that didn’t keep her in people’s minds. It was all around tragic. Utterly tragic. Terrible.”

Elder and the Vetter brothers drove from Kansas City to attend the visitation and funeral last year. They’re glad they did. They’ve since made connections with Grimmie’s family, who have been supportive of the film.

“They’re just very proud of the work that she did and that it was a wholesome movie, a good representation of who she was,” Elder said. “The one thing (her parents) Tina and Bud both said when they came to the L.A. premiere of the movie is, ‘We haven’t had a happy night since she’s been gone. Tonight, this has definitely been a happy night.’ 

Elder said they kept their costs low, so if there’s an upside to any of this, it’s that they’re still on track to make their money back on the movie.

“I think it found its audience when it hit Netflix, which is awesome,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of positive responses, a lot of praise, and I think things will come from it, finally getting this exposure. The movie, we’ve learned, is more of a calling card for us.”

They’ve also heard from many parents who can relate to the film’s premise of hiring someone to cause a breakup between their kids and their significant others.

“We’ve heard that a lot,” Vetter said. “Maybe that’s a business we should start doing.”

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese

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