Directed by Richard Loncraine. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, James McAvoy, Eleanor Bron, Bernard Hill. (2004, PG-13, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 17, 2004
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if British production company Working Title has become something of the obvious choice for a particular brand of romantic comedy, it’s also the best choice, by and large. Wimbledon’s schematics – the functionally neurotic lead, his gently daft family, a wisecracking best buddy, and a romantic interest just a hair out of our hero’s league – may sound an awful lot like Four Weddings and a Funeral (and other Working Title productions like Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, yet this zippy, stylish film manages to follow a formula without ever feeling formulaic. The slightly nutter hero here is 32-year-old tennis pro Peter Colt (Bettany), in the twilight of his career and bottom-dwelling in the rankings. Exhausted and bettered by all the young Turks of the game, Peter’s just hoping for a dignified exit to this, his last tournament, before he retires to become tennis director at a cushy country club (where the toughest sport he’ll have is in fending off advances from the club’s tippling, bored housewives). On the other end of the spectrum is an American young gun, the feisty Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst). She’s on her way up, he’s on his way out – what do you wanna bet they meet cute in the middle? Actually, their first encounter is much livelier than that: Lizzie’s regimen includes working off pre-match jitters with a little afternoon delight, and Peter, lucky lad, happens to be in her sightline. Their courtship is a sweet one, although the chemistry between the two isn’t exactly combustible – they’re both so very blond, and Dunst, a full decade younger than her co-star, has a habit of leaning into his towering frame in away that feels vaguely little-sister-like. Genetic similarities aside, Bettany and Dunst are awfully likeable, easy to root for in love and in sport. Indeed, the tennis action (shot on location at Wimbledon) is edge-of-the-seat stuff, aided by running commentary from John McEnroe and Chris Everet. Better yet is Peter's snarky, self-doubting internal monologue, which reveals him to be just as dumbstruck as all his critics when he miraculously begins to advance in the tourney. (Apparently, love doesn't just give you wings, but also a wicked backhand.) Director Loncraine, whose last theatrical vehicle was the snarling Richard III, has wholly shed the savagery of that film for Wimbledon’s unabashedly moony take on squeaky sneakers in love, but then again, the original Tricky Dick knew a thing or two about watching his kingdom crumble before his eyes, too. Difference here is that we’re rooting – really, really rooting, if the audience’s enthusiastic applause at the sneak screening is any indicator – for the guy to turn his life around and get the girl, get the trophy, get the glory – in this terribly tender, good-hearted picture.