Wimbledon (2004) / Romance-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexuality, and partial nudity
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, James McAvoy, Jonathan Timmins
Director: Richard Loncraine
Screenplay: Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Review published September 18, 2004
One part inspirational sports film, one part syrupy romance, Wimbledon is one of those movies that isn't really good, but provides just enough interest to make it easy to endure. Like the countless sports films that have come before this one, Wimbledon adheres strictly to its underdog formula throughout, not only on the court but in the bedroom as well. I suppose the novelty of a film revolving around tennis is fairly new territory for sports flicks, but this could have been about nearly any sport where men and women have equal prominence and the results would have been about the same.
Paul Bettany (Master & Commander, A Beautiful Mind) gets the starring role as aging British tennis player, Peter Colt, who decides that he will have one final hurrah as a pro player at Wimbledon. Colt is considered an extreme underdog, written off because he hasn't beaten a any highly seeded players in any tournament in over three years. While preparing for certain defeat, he encounters an up-and-coming women's tennis prospect in Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst, Spider-Man), who has a system of getting her groove on before every match to help her with her game, and Peter is the sex object du jour. What was a fun fling soon develops into something more, and Lizzie's overly protective father (Neill, Bicentennial Man) thinks it is a distraction to her hopes of winning, so tension is high to keep the affair under wraps. Meanwhile, Peter's game is in full swing, rejuvenated by love, patriotism, and nostalgia for the game he is bidding his final farewell to.
Wimbledon manages to work at times thanks to the likeability of the two leads, with Bettany in particular doing a convincing job both as an actor as well as performing the moves on the court. It's a pleasant little story in its own way, although the saccharine qualities of the romance bogs the momentum down with schmaltzy dialogue and contrived situations galore. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise, as the film is made by the same company that brought us the crowd-pleasing hits, Bridget Jones Diary, Love Actually and Notting Hill, but while those films succeeded because of their cheeky nature, Wimbledon tries to play things mostly straight, and cornball moments like the would-be couple smooching under the vision of a comet are gag inducing.
Wimbledon will have some appeal to those who like the two stars of the film, as well as for people with a special liking for mushy romances or feel-good machinations in the sports department. As a date flick, it fits the bill, but anyone looking for anything above standard fare will probably come away with little to show for their time spent. Just as "love" is a score that means defeat for those who play tennis, it's the ham-handed treatment of love that keeps Wimbledon from succeeding in the end.
©2004 Vince Leo