His ranking has plummeted from 11 to 149 and British tennis player Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is about to leave the pro tennis circuit and take up a position coaching middle aged women. On his last outing, he gets a wild-card entry at Wimbledon, where he meets American tennis rising star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). Lizzie is ambitious and focused, having recently dumped fellow American champion Jake Hammons (Austin Nichols). There's an instant attraction between Peter and Lizzie, but Lizzie's overprotective coach and father Dennis (Sam Neill) is keen to ensure no distractions for his daughter. Peter seems to have found himself on a winning streak - on the court and off.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you'd read some of the bumf on the film in advance, you might have assumed that Lizzy Bradbury and her dad are based on some real pros whose antics have made headlines. Forget it. There isn't a moment of satire, caricature or spoof I this film, which begins in such a superficial mood it threatens to vanish before our eyes.
But our attention is soon captured when Peter mistakenly walks into Lizzie's spacious hotel suite where she is in the shower, door open, naked of course.
With a combination of gentle comedy, including a touch of self deprecating English humour, Wimbledon builds into a short and sweet romantic comedy, set against the dramatic sporting pantheon of tennis, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
If you're a tennis fan, which I am, you will find that even CGI-ing the tennis balls doesn't entirely spoil the excitement and tension of the odd game, and the final itself is pretty well staged.
I had often wondered how one could make a film that harnesses the sheer drama of a Wimbledon final in terms of a personal story; Wimbledon comes close, even though it is wrapped around the somewhat unlikely scenario of a journeyman's triumphant rise through the rounds.
Paul Bettany is likeable and credible as the soul searching, vulnerable but determined Peter Colt, while Kirsten Dunst is more sweet than the killer image might suggest. Sam Neill plays a caring father rather than a tennis tyrant, and Jon Favreau puts in a comic performance as the tennis agent. I especially like Peter's family (James McAvoy, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron), who each take a journey of their own through the film.
Wimbledon's technical achievements are impressive, including the seamless integration of actual Wimbledon (2003) footage with the staged matches, and Richard Loncraine's unfussy direction is just smart enough to keep us engaged.
Review by Louise Keller:
He's tired of airports, lonely hotel rooms and long-distance love affairs. But that's really only an excuse. Although he hardly revels in the notion of spending his days as the central attraction to ageing women who lunch while eyeing he who would be their king on the court, Peter Colt realises that it's time to face up to reality. His career as a tennis pro is over. Set on the colourful backdrop of the all-white British tennis tournament comes the romantic comedy Wimbledon, a feel-good story about love and winning.
A romantic comedy from the makers of Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary, this is a story about the underdog who defies the odds to pursue his dream. But this is no ordinary dream, aspiring to the most prestigious tennis crown in the world, while in the love stakes, the bar is set high targeting the current IT girl. BAFTA winning director Richard Loncraine (The Gathering Storm) brings a compelling mix of humour and pathos to deliver an entertaining film that is both funny and moving.
Ace performances from Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst assure of our commitment, both on and off the court. Bettany might be better known for dramatic roles, but here he effortlessly shows his versatility, while Dunst revels in just being charismatic and has no difficulty in drawing us to her. It doesn't seem so long ago that she was repeating the name of another Peter - Spiderman's Peter Parker; either way, she is convincing. Some of the characters are no doubt inspired from real life - from the on court tantrums to the psychological games. One of the best things about the script is how it skilfully weaves together many layers, incorporating the relationships beyond those in Peter and Lizzie's worlds to those in Peter's dysfunctional family. Splendid performances from British actors Eleanor Bron and Bernard Hill as his eccentric parents. We meet his wag of a brother who places his bets against him, his sleezy, duplicitous rogue agent (a great turn by Jon Favreau), his likeable practice partner (Nikolaj Coster-Walder, terrific), and Sam Neill brings a soft edge to Lizzie's over-protective father, who discourages extra-curricular night-time activity, concerned it promotes a 'mushy' first serve.
We become engrossed in the excitement, the media frenzy, the anguish, the insecurity, the superstitions, the gamesmanship, the pressure and of course the matches themselves. The key tennis sequences (off and on the court) are shot at Wimbledon itself, and we feel a little like a fly on the wall buzzing around the locker rooms, the players' enclosures, in the stands and on the courts. Crucial to the film's credibility are the matches (with commentary by former champions John McEnroe and Chris Evert-Lloyd), and we are there for every lunge, volley, lob, ace and cross-court smash. Although the matches are shot like action sequences with each shot carefully storyboarded and choreographed (in consultation with players including Pat Cash), Loncraine has meshed these scenes together with great fluidity.
By the time the final ball has been tossed, we are totally caught up in the game and the emotion. I felt as though I had played a couple of sets myself. Wimbledon is lots of fun, whether you like tennis or not. But it's the love story that plays the crucial role, and while 'love' may mean you lose in tennis terms, it may not always reflect the real score. Game, set and match.
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CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Sam Neill, James McAvoy, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, Jon Favreau, Nikolaj Coster-Walder with John McEnroe and Chris Evert-Lloyd
PRODUCER: Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Mary Richards
DIRECTOR: Richard Loncraine
SCRIPT: Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji
EDITOR: Humphrey Dixon
MUSIC: Ed Shearmur
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Brian Morris
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 2004