Wimbledon is the best British-tennis-romantic comedy ever made. Then again, since there aren't any others, it's also the worst. But we'll focus on the positive.
Paul Bettany stars as Peter Colt, an aging tennis pro who's ready to call it quits. He hasn't won a major match in years, he's lost his swagger, and Wimbledon is his final hurrah. But then something predictable happens"”I mean then something magical happens"”he falls in love. Ahhhwww.
Peter's affair with Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), a win-at-all-costs American tennis celeb, gives him the mojo he needs to rediscover his game. You can guess what happens. There are some rousing tennis matches, some cutesy coupley scenes, some dark moments, and then some possibilities for resolution. Yes, this one's by the numbers"”seemingly made from an "Idiot's Guide to Making Romantic Comedies"Â"”but it's agreeable enough.
Bettany has a gentle charm that carries the film, and, let's be honest; he was born to wear that white tennis shirt. He's convincing as a likable, down-on-his luck, self-doubting jock, who just wants to leave the game with some dignity. Bettany brings a vulnerability to the role that's difficult for even hardened cynics to resist.
Things get off to a shaky start. Not the tennis, the movie. At the beginning of the film, there's a troubling lack of chemistry between the two leads, which is normally a deal-breaker for any romantic comedy. Director Richard Loncraine doesn't even bother showing us their first kiss, and there's never a doubt that the guy will get the girl. Everything is rushed. The only true courtship scene"”where Peter and Lizzie practice their serves while whispering in each other's ears"”has already been spoiled in the previews.
Surprisingly, though, this is one of those rare films that actually gets better as it plods forward. Their chemistry gradually improves, and, more importantly, the tennis story-arc hits on all cylinders. Evoking the spirit of Tin Cup, Peter's climb up the Wimbledon brackets is the perfect counterweight to an otherwise sappy script. The tennis is expertly paced. In early contests, we see only snippets of each match, just enough to whet our appetite. As the stakes mount, Loncraine gradually gives us longer and more involved tennis sequences, building to a climactic match that should leave most audiences breathless.
Much of the dialogue is bland, and many of the jokes are telegraphed. At one point early in the film, Peter's best friend cautions him against the distraction of an affair. Peter says something to the effect of, "Come now. On the eve of the biggest tournament of my life, do you really think I'd be stupid enough to get involved with a woman?"Â His friend smiles and replies, "Absolutely."Â Or
how about this one. When Peter first meets Lizzie, he nervously stutters that his name is, "Peter. Peter Cole."Â So Lizze playfully calls him "Peter Peter Cole."Â Has the world used up all its jokes?
The supporting cast provides some mild comic relief. The highlight is Jon Favreau"”playing a greedy, weasel-like sports agent"”who steals each of his scenes. James McAvoy plays Peter's opportunistic brother, who at first bets against Peter, and then uses his success as a means to pick up chicks. And the subplot between Peter's bickering parents, while just a touch too syrupy, nicely rounds out the film.
In the end, Wimbledon doesn't serve many aces, but there aren't too many double faults, either.
Movie Grade: B-