Sun splashed shots and a series of beautiful, thoroughly English sets get this sports-romantic-comedy over the net, but a clumsy romance with flat dialogue means “Wimbledon” is far from an ace.
Peter Colt (a glum-looking but winningly wry Paul Bettany) is the fading tennis player who draws a wild-card slot at Wimbledon and decides it will be his last hurrah on the court. While physically still game at 32, his intense personal monologues demonstrate why he is a long-shot. His pre-service thoughts include the mantra “I’m going to choke…”. Along comes his anima and muse, intensely focused Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) to awake in him his killer instinct and self-confidence so that he can win one last time.
Their contrasting styles are a study in British and American stereotypes, with his tact, dry humor and quiet desperation playing against her ambition, bluntness and childish enthusiasm. While Lizzie is a supremely self-assured competitor as long as tennis is the subject, she talks with her trainer/father (Sam Neill) in cringing little-girl tones and cannot stand up to him when he tells her not to become involved with Peter. Her father, perhaps overly involved with her as she seems to occupy all of his emotional and professional life, is all about winning and and he worries that Peter will be a distracting emotional entanglement. With her sulky mannerisms, bedroom eyes and puppy-like canines, Dunst’s Lizzie bobbles between adult and child in a manner that is less endearing than disturbing.
The quick, cleverly shot movie becomes flat-footed when Dunst and Bettany share the screen. She seems an excellent match for him on the tennis court, but in the scenes where they get to know each other, Peter seems more an older brother than a potential love-interest. Like Dunst, Bettany is a treat to watch but he seems unable to shed his tendency to be more observer than participant –- a trait that works very well as Dr. Maturin in Master and Commander or Nicholas in The Reckoning, but makes him an outsider in his own love story here.
On the sports level, the movie is at its best. With lots of diving for shots, zooming angles and super-powered serves, tennis never looked so exciting. The scenes with Peter and his practice partner, Dieter (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) deserve a buddy film of their own, and serve as the warmest and funniest in the film, which does not say much for the Colt/Bradbury love match. Playing on the sidelines are several sub-plots involving interesting but minor characters including Colt’s family: his silently bickering parents (Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron) and unsupportive brother, an arrogant American competitor (Austin Nichols), and Colt’s agent (Jon Favreau) who flies to his side when Colt begins to win again.
The commentators on this game might quibble over the final score, but the movie stays well within the lines of solid entertainment even if the love match never breaks out of the second-tier circuit.
Parents should know that the characters treat sex extremely casually, referring to it as a way to stay loose and relax during competition. Similarly, love or sustained relationships are perceived as distracting the athletes from competition and weakening the killer instinct. This movie has profanity of the British and American varieties, and includes a brief scene of nudity as well as implicit sexual situations. Characters drink alcohol. A character alludes to the loss of her mother.
Families should discuss the relationship between Lizzie and her father, about how the combined role of being a father and a trainer might be a challenge, and about how Lizzie succeeds (or not) in communicating with him. They might also wish to discuss the challenge of living the athletes’ lifestyle and how it alters their relationships with friends and family.
Families who enjoy this movie might like the soccer-oriented, British hit Bend it like Beckham or the cheerleading flick Bring it On (also with Kirsten Dunst). Romantic comedies attached to the team who made this movie include French Kiss, Four Weddings and a Funeral (rated R), Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Notting Hill, all of which are worth watching.