Sunday, 26 April 2009

Movie Review - Wimbledon

I’d been looking forward to watching Wimbledon for months, mainly because of the lead pairing of Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master & Commander, A Knight’s Tale) and Kursten Dunst (Spiderman 2, Mona Lisa Smile). And of course the prospect – perhaps – of finally seeing a Brit win Wimbledon? (Well it ain’t gonna happen in real life, so I was hoping the filmmakers applied a little… creative licence to the storyline. I’m not going to tell you if it happens or not though…)

The plot revolved around Peter Colt (Bettany), a journeyman British tennis player now ranked 119 (or thereabouts) in the world, though he at one point in his career reached the dizzying heights of World o. 15 (sorry, 11). He’s about to bow out following one final crack at Wimbledon, where he hopes not to be humiliated too thoroughly, and is then resigned to taking up a post of Director of Tennis, looking after a lot of randy old ladies… oh dear.

But then something happens – he meets a girl… a rising young American player with a McEnroe-style temper, a fearsome forehand, and a real zest for life. Not only that, but she seems to like him… sadly, her domineering father-coach (shades of Capriati’s and the Williams sisters’ dads here), it seems that their romance will never blossom.

But of course the path of true love never runs smoothly… and this is no exception. Added to which, Colt’s sudden improvement in form shocks everyone… not least himself. Pity his family life isn’t up to scratch – his parents are barely on speaking terms and his brother constantly bets against him – and thus is very disappointed when he starts to win. When his training partner (a German with a sense of humour) is pitted as his opponent in one round, it seems that things just can’t get any worse…

Wimbledon is a good romantic comedy, but misses out on being a great one – not by a huge amount, just little niggles here and there. The script is good and keeps things moving, and the tennis scenes are brilliantly done – both Bettany and Dunst had tennis doubles (though the latter is employed far less), but you really can’t tell that it’s not the actors. The camerawork and effects are imaginative too, adding a little sparkle to the proceedings. With former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash (I think he won it in 1987) as Tennis Consultant, it’s perhaps no surprise that it all looks so convincing. I was impressed however with the way genuine tension was built up in the matches, which was as much to do with the storyline as the points in the match you are shown. The balance between sporting ation and storyline is spot on – even if you don’t like tennis much, you won’t have time to get bored with it. The only thing they’ve underestimated is the amount of noise the British public make when a Brit’s actually winning – which is not quite so rare at Wimbledon as elsewhere! Wimbledon is probably the best sport-based movie I’ve seen since the wonderful Cutting Edge.

Sparkle, however, is one thing that the chemistry between Bettany and Dunst lacked. It wasn’t that they looked completely wrong together or that their scenes lacked emotional impact, but there just wasn’t that buzz around them that you sometimes see in romantic comedies. In general they were both very good in their roles, though perhaps romantic comedy fails to bring out the best in either of them. There are plenty of laughs throughout the films, though a slight over-reliance on crudity (nowhere near as bad as First 50 Dates or Just Married, but with the acting talent available here it was unnecessary), and the plot was a bit too predictable.

With an excellent supporting cast including the superb Bernard Hill (who was excellent as King Theoden in Return of the King and Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, The Dish) as the father being particularly impressive, a great musical score that features David Gray, this film really has a lot going for it. Apart from the crude language and a couple of bits of crude humour. it was hugely enjoyable and I certainly didn’t feel disappointed with this film I’d been waiting for months to come out. Along with the crude bits there was one very brief glimpse of Bettany’s buttocks (that’ll make sure Doc, Dizzy, and Katy go to watch it now…), all of which, put together, gave it a 12A rating in the UK – which means under 12’s can only watch it if accompanied by an adult… I actually thought a 12 rating – no under 12’s – was possibly have been warranted. This isn’t likely to bother most adults but will probably put some parents off letting their kids watch it, which is a shame as it could have been film that truly could be enjoyed by every age group.

Despite the couple of complaints I have about the film, it was still very nearly good enough to warrant 5 stars – the main reason I’ve only given it 4 is that I think it will probably appeal more to the British and may not quite strike the same cord with people in other countries as it did with me. (My wife, who is South African, liked it but not as much as me – well obviously she likes me more than the film [duh], what I actually meant was that she didn’t like the film quite as much as I liked the film. Sheesh. You really have to spell it out for some people…)

Anyway, enough of this dreadful drivel. It’s a good film, it’s not quite a great film, and if you like tennis / romantic comedies / Paul Bettany, you’re going to enjoy this a lot. Not necessarily recommended for children, though – I hope what I’ve told you is enough for parents to make an informed decision on that score.

See also my Review of 2004 Movies.

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