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"A light, frivolous comedy that applies a tried and true romantic formula to the professional world of tennis."
"Dunst exudes tenderness in a role that requires testosterone."
"Like any good volley, inevitably it finds its way into the net."
Wimbledon  

Cast

Lizzie Bradbury: Kirsten Dunst
Peter Colt: Paul Bettany
Mr. Bradbury: Sam Neill
Ron (agent): Jon Favreau
Edward Colt: Bernard Hill
Augusta Colt: Eleanor Bron
Jake Hammond: Austin Nichols
Review September 2004

"Wimbledon" is a light, frivolous comedy that applies a tried and true romantic formula to the professional world of tennis. Filmed on location at tennis' preeminent championship, the film follows the story of Peter Colt, an aging British tennis player on the verge of retirement, who returns to Wimbledon to play in his last tournament. While there, he stumbles into American tennis star, Lizzie Bradbury, who gives him a whole new outlook on life and love. Starring Paul Bettany, a recognizable co-star from such films as "A Beautiful Mind," "Master and Commander," and "A Knight's Tale," the film aptly balances playfulness with a reverence for the game. Utilizing the latest camera technology and visual effects, director Richard Loncraine mixes a stereotypical romance with an atypical perspective of tennis, one that is both mental and physical. The end result of which is no Grand Slam, but more or less a pleasant diversion.

Peter Colt was once ranked the 11th best tennis player in the world. But lately, he's been on a 2-year losing streak, slipping all the way down to 119th. And he's not getting any younger. At age 32, Colt has practically resigned to a younger generation of tennis stars. In fact, it's so bad that his brother places regular wages against him. Nevertheless, before he can retire from the game all together and become a tennis instructor, he must play Wimbledon one more time. Anticipating an early exit, Colt prepares for the worst. But after arriving at his hotel, a funny thing happens. A mistaken room assignment puts him in the presence of rising American tennis sensation, Lizzie Bradbury. Known for temperamental, racquet throwing, obnoxious ways, Bradbury finds amusement in Colt's subtle charm. And the two instantly fall for each other.

Inspired by this newfound love, Peter's luck begins to change on the tennis court and his losing turns into winning. However, with success come the spoils. Pushed to the edge to win her first Grand Slam, Lizzie struggles in her respective matches. And when her father realizes that she's secretly involved with another tennis player, he steals her away to regain control and keep her focused. Without Lizzie, Peter loses his composure and almost gets bumped out of the tournament. And with heartache and backache, he knows that he will need more than luck on his side to become the first British tennis player since 1936 to win the coveted Wimbledon title.

The last film I vaguely recall where tennis was the main ingredient in the plot was an abysmal 1986 TV movie called "Second Server" starring a young Vanessa Redgrave as the transsexual tennis pro, Renee Richards. I don't remember much about it except how laughable the tennis sequences were, scenes that never really showed the actors playing the game. But in Richard Loncraine's "Wimbledon," the tennis is much more real. Using slick camera techniques and choreography, Loncraine allows us to become one with the ball, to find the sweet spot on the racquet, and to kick up chalk on the baseline. Even more distinctly, we get to delve inside the psyche of a tennis player - to know what it's like to be alone on the court, to have doubts about performing at the top of one's game, to ponder retirement and life after tennis, and to entertain random thoughts about strategy, love, and life. In other words, when put together, a stagnant, one-dimensional environment becomes a multi-faceted arena full of action, energy, and mental battles.

There is absolutely no question though that "Wimbledon" is a cookie cutter romantic comedy. From the producers of "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones's Diary," and "Love Actually," the film puts two good natured individuals together to do good things and have good things happen to them. Call it carefree entertainment. Occasionally, there are stumbling blocks - injuries, media exposure, an overprotective father, competition against a best friend, a resentful ex-boyfriend, etc. - none of which is too difficult for these charming characters to overcome. Fortunately, what separates this film from any other in the genre is its ability to provide audiences with an all access pass to Wimbledon. Granted unprecedented invitations by The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, the filmmakers were allowed to shoot during the 2003 championships. And even more impressive, they were given exclusive permission by the Chairman himself to film on Centre Court, a privilege strictly given to tournament players only.

Under the tutelage of professional adviser, Pat Cash (who won Wimbledon in 1987), Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are made to look like tennis pros. Though not exactly ready to join the tour, their movements and styles are legitimate and believable. And you really get to see them serve and volley with very few well-timed edits. In particular, the choreography of the winning points is exceptional. And adding even more authenticity to the film are Wimbledon pros John McEnroe and Chris Evert along with commentator Mary Carillo, who provide insight and play by play during the tournament matches.

Originally, the casting director sought after Hugh Grant and Reese Witherspoon for the leading roles. And I can only imagine how dreadfully country club it would have been if they had done so. By casting the underrated Paul Bettany in the leading role, they ensured themselves a character actor with genuine credibility. Although Bettany has never been involved in a romantic comedy or a sports movie, his maturity and adaptability are easily discernible. Demonstrating the right look, the right energy, and the right spirit, Bettany is a perfect match for the witty and weary veteran. If only you could say the same for his counterpart. While Bettany and Dunst have a unique chemistry onscreen, Dunst is almost too soft to portray a professional athlete. Typecast as a high school sweetheart or teen queen in such films as "The Virgin Suicides," "Bring It On," and "Get Over It," Dunst displays a sweetness that is simply out of place in the world of tennis. Lacking the swagger, the athleticism, and maybe even the focus, Dunst exudes tenderness in a role that requires testosterone.

"Wimbledon" is a predictable, yet entertaining romantic comedy about love on and off the tennis court. With clever writing from Adam Brooks, a sound performance from Paul Bettany, and a unique approach to visualizing the game, the film scores a sufficient number of points. But discouragingly, it finds its way back to deuce adhering to formula and misrepresenting Lizzie as the girl next door instead of a girl with tenacity and edge (think of the Williams' sisters). Though full of charm and good intent, it never rises above mediocrity. And like any good volley, inevitably it finds its way into the net.



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