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"Wimbledon" Serves Light-Hearted Look Inside Tennis Tourney

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
"Wimbledon" Serves Light-Hearted Look Inside Tennis Tourney

Release Date:  September 17, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for language, sexuality and partial nudity)
Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama
Run Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Director:  Richard Loncraine
Actors:   Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Robert Limsey, Sam Neill, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Austin Nichols, James McAvoy, Jon Favreau

Love match, anyone? Or perhaps just a shag?

A professional tennis player once ranked 11th in the world, Peter Colt (Paul Bettany, “Master and Commander”) is playing his last Wimbledon before retiring to teach at a local club – much to the anticipation of the female members.  Upon arrival at London’s Dorchester Hotel, Peter is given the wrong room key and bursts in on up-and-coming, bad-girl tennis star, Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst“Spider-Man 2”), in the shower. The American Lizzie is favored to win Wimbledon, while Peter the Brit, now ranked 119, is merely hoping he won’t embarrass himself. The opposites attract and Lizzie invites Peter to her room for a date, where she coyly asks whether he enjoys fooling around before matches. His astonished but delighted answer is yes, and the two fall into bed.

The next day, Peter is losing his match when Lizzie shows up to watch. Suddenly energized by her gaze, he does a 180 and wins. He does the same thing again the next day – and the next. As long as Lizzie is watching, Peter is winning, much to the delight of his former agent (Jon Favreau), who magicallly reappears to manage Peter’s soaring career. Unfortunately, all the “fooling around” has the opposite effect on Lizzie, whose game is off – exactly what her father (Sam Neill) said would happen. So when Daddy whisks Lizzie away, Peter has to figure out how he can win the finals without her.

British director Richard Loncraine  (“My House in Umbria”) prepared well for the film, reading 20 books on the history of Wimbledon and insisting on four months of training for his actors. He also managed to obtain permission from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to film during the actual tournament, an unprecedented move that had actors walking onto the courts before and after matches, as if they were players, so the cameras could film them. Although the tennis moves were real, courtesy of 1981 Wimbledon Champ, Pat Cash, a consultant, the balls were inserted using CGI technology. Former Wimbledon champions John McEnroe and Chris Evert also appear in the film as themselves, providing amusing commentary during the matches. McEnroe’s deadpan observations are especially funny.

The result is a light-hearted look inside the world’s best tennis tournament. We don’t see its underbelly – the rampant promiscuity, addiction and big-money deals that are said to thwart the sport – but we hear what a player like Peter might be thinking as he serves, volleys and races to the net. And, we get an inkling about just how nervous players really are, even when they appear as cool as Wimbledon’s trademark strawberries and cream.

Like most romantic comedies, “Wimbledon” follows the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back formula, so the plot has a predictable feel that, combined with another movie recipe (athlete-underdog overcomes great odds on his path to sports greatness), never leaves us wondering what’s going to happen next. The tennis angle is a nice deviation for both. However, it’s not enough to overcome the uninspired dialogue and clichés that include a first-date music montage and even a shooting star (comet).

The greatest failings of the script, however, are its characters. Bettany handles his role well, projecting the right combination of vulnerability and strength, although he doesn’t have the charisma or stunning good looks of Hugh Grant – who was reportedly first choice for the role. Dunst does a fair job, but the script has weaknesses that no acting can overcome. Lizzie’s no female McEnroe, which the film wants us to believe. We see only one, mostly mild, temper tantrum that Dunst doesn’t quite pull off. She also gives in far too easily to Daddy’s bullying for a headstrong, anger-driven tennis star and only child. Also, with just one boyfriend in the background, she’s hardly a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em commitment-phobe, especially since she falls so easily for Peter. The actors that really stand out are Favreau, who offers a hilarious performance as Peter’s slimy agent, and James McAvoy, Peter’s morally-challenged brother.

Casual sex plays a significant role in this film, not only creating the set-up but propelling the plot along, and it’s clear that the filmmakers want us to believe that this is the norm for singles. Lizzie puts the moves on a guy she hardly knows, which has them in bed on the first date – and every date thereafter. Although their tennis connection is obvious, you can’t help but wonder if it’s lust more than love that keeps this match going, thus underscoring the film’s romantic worldview where emotions drive reality. What a shame that more time isn’t spent developing a real relationship that might go the distance.

The other scenes, where Peter’s brother watches pornography and hangs out naked with his friend and their girlfriends, seems to have been added for the younger male audience. Unfortunately, the message is that this sort of behavior is normal. On the other hand (spoiler ahead), Peter and Lizzie end up married with kids, and it’s delightful that Peter’s loving but headstrong parents, who have been estranged for years, find reconciliation. So the movie does offer two very positive and commendable images about marriage, even if it forces us to listen to vociferous sounds of lovemaking – something I find incredibly annoying – in the process.

There’s nothing particularly memorable here, but for adults, “Wimbledon” is a mildly entertaining, romantic peak into the world of professional tennis.
      
OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Characters drink wine, beer and champagne and smoke.  Placement advertisement for Guinness beer figures prominently.
  • Language/Profanity:  Approximately three dozen profanities (including one f- word) and a half-dozen obscenities, mostly mild (“Oh my god”). Also multiple uses of English profanities, including “bollucks,” “wanker,” “bloody,” bugger” and “shag.”
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   Multiple references to sexual situations and sexuality; character watches pornography on television (sounds overheard); characters discuss “sleeping together,” “fooling around,” “screwing;” brief rear male nudity as character selects underwear; four characters watch TV semi-nude, having apparently engaged in sex; characters fornicate in multiple scenes, including semi-nudity; joking reference to homosexuality; married characters make love offscreen (sounds overheard).
  • Violence:   Tennis players fall during game; husband and wife argue.