Wimbledon – When Below Par is Actually Good

ImageAs it is that time again when strawberries and cream start to sell out and the weather becomes peculiarly, almost eerily, nice for Britain, one must conclude that Wimbledon is upon us once again and now BBC1 and BBC2 will be shoving Wimbledon down our throats for the next two weeks. While tennis for me is about as exciting as a fungal infection, I will say it is a damn side better than Formula 1, Cricket and Golf, all of which would induce a severe brain haemorrhage. However a film about tennis promised to be far more exhilarating than actual tennis itself, so I decided to review the 2004 film Wimbledon, which wins the prize for “World’s Most No-Nonsense Title”.

Ok, brief overview time. Paul Bettany (more recognisable as Silas the Flagellant in The Da Vinci Code) plays Peter Colt, a once great thirty-something tennis player who is quickly coming to the gates of retirement with the Grim Reaper of Tennis beckoning him forward, with Wimbledon being his final hurrah, or as he sees it, a final wheeze from a man too old for the energetic whippersnappers coming to the fore. However all this changes when he walks in on Kirsten Dunst (most recognisable as Mary-Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy) taking a shower. Dunst, playing the up-and-coming American Lizzie Bradbury, begins to breathe new life into the old war-tennis-horse and as they progress through the rounds of Wimbledon, so does their relationship.

Aaaaaand, the obligatory stuff is done! Now here comes the critique. The problem with this film is that it doesn’t expand as much as it had the potential to have. While Bettany and Dunst were brilliant choices for the romantic comedy formula, with their relationship being believable and charming enough for us to momentarily forget about the Hugh Grant years which their previous romantic comedies were centred around, bringing them great success.

While one can see as the beginning of their relationship to be slightly forced to be truly accepted by some viewers, their relationship was fun, interesting and even made tennis interesting, an incredible feat in itself. Although some of the comedic elements are weaker than other films, Wimbledon is a pretty solid romantic comedy. However when you compare it to the past successes of Four Weddings and a FuneralNotting Hill and Love, ActuallyWimbledon falls short compared to them, though one must remember that these were written and/or directed by Richard Curtis, whereas this one is directed by Richard Loncraine and is written by three writers. It is as if Wimbledon got stuck at the back of the cue for school dinners and, while the older Curtis films got hefty portions of comedy, romance and witty script-writing, Wimbledon was left with last Tuesday’s leftovers, and while the leftovers were brilliant, it has gone a bit stale by the time it reached Wimbledon’s plate.

paul-bettany-in-una-scena-del-film-wimbledon-13604

Furthermore, Working Title Films have a knack for bringing in brilliant actors in the past, and Wimbledon is no exception, with the likes of Celia Imrie (dinnerladies) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) acting in supporting roles. They even brought in fresh actors who would soon become greats within their own right, such as James McAvoy (Atonement) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones). However, their roles are very limited to the extent that one wonders why they are there at all.

Most of these brilliant actors only have a limited amount of scenes which begs the question of why they were introduced in the first place. There were so many areas that could have been expanded upon greatly to give another dimension to what could have been another great romantic comedy, however it is underdeveloped and left by the wayside to gather dust and leaving the audience questioning what was the point of the supporting characters to the overall story when they contributed so little, and what they did contribute was weak at best, yet could have been so easily made integral to the plot.

Yet, despite these criticisms, Wimbledon delivers a competent romantic storyline that even made the tennis matches interesting to watch, especially with Peter Colt’s constant thoughts of self-doubt gnawing at him throughout his matches, giving the film a much needed area of growth. Also while there are clear areas in which this film could have expanded upon to improve the film, they are not necessarily a hindrance to the film either. While one can complain about what the film could have been and look longingly to its more successful predecessors, the film in its own right was not a terrible flop (Yes, I am referencing you Man of Steel). Far from it, Wimbledon produced a good example of romantic comedy which, although treading on already well-trodden ground (thank you Curtis), does not lose its way and comes out the other side with dignity but not blockbuster success. It may not be a perfect film, but it’s better than watching Wimbledon itself.

6.5/10

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