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Even for those who don’t follow tennis, one of the most exciting moments of the 2003 sports year came during the US Open. Upcoming star Andy Roddick electrified fans with his monster serve and winning personality. His run for a first grand slam title was elevated to storybook proportions by the fact that he was dating pop singer/movie starlet Mandy Moore.
After dismantling his opponent in the final, Roddick leapt into the crowd, embraced his family, then broke away to do the same with Miss Moore. I thought at the time it would be hard to script a more satisfying Hollywood ending. Apparently, the creators of the new film Wimbledon were equally inspired.
Of course the movie was already in the works then. And the details of this romantic tennis comedy are quite different. But you can feel the push to capture some of that same emotion as the filmmakers recreated the high-pressure, mega-celebrity world of pro tennis and its grandest tournament.
Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, A Knight’s Tale) is Peter Colt, a 32-year-old journeyman tennis player who once reached the rank of 11th in the world. Now ranked 119th, he’s made the gloomy decision that his wildcard inclusion in Wimbledon will be his last tournament.
His mood is worsened by his parents’ rocky relationship, his younger brothers’ wayward lifestyle, and his apparent future as a tennis pro to a bunch of middle-aged women at the local country club. But the clouds lift after an accidental encounter followed by intentional fooling around with upcoming American star Lizzie Bradbury (played by the Spider-Man's Kirsten Dunst), a favorite to win the women’s tournament. Suddenly, Peter is playing the best tennis of his life, winning one unlikely match after another.
Their blooming love is threatened by Lizzie’s protective father/manager who forbids Peter to see her anymore. But the headstrong and fearless Lizzie continues the relationship, even at the risk of her own game. And Peter just keeps finding new ways to win.
Peter cares for his family and feels badly when his parents seem to be struggling in their relationship. Later, Peter’s parents grow closer while rooting for Peter to succeed, and his dad expresses his gratitude and love for Peter. His mom urges the family to be kinder and less judgmental (though she immediately fails to follow through on her own advice). Peter’s brother eventually expresses his belief in and support of Peter.
When Peter defeats his good friend in a match, the friend refuses to become angry or jealous, instead supporting Peter both on his run for the championship and in his relationship with Lizzie. Lizzie’s love (and expressed spirit of forgiveness) for Peter gives him the confidence to play at the top of his game. She also encourages Peter to believe in himself and to reject the idea that he cannot succeed, helping him to overcome his tendency to allow his thoughts to sabotage his performance. Some will see it as trite, but a closing scene speaks to the fact that winning isn't what makes a man whole, and the best things life has to offer come from helping others, not conquering the world.
Peter’s brother watches porn movies; we hear audio from one. Later, Peter’s brother and a friend hang out with two girls—all in their underwear—implying they’ve all had sex. Less objectionable, but still sexual, Peter’s parents are heard (but not seen) having sex in their kitchen. A quip references masturbation. Peter jokes about "shagging" Lizzie's father and tells Lizzie his (male) friend has a "weakness for ... men in leather shorts." Lizzie makes a crude gesture on the court.
Peter sees Lizzie in the shower and doesn’t turn away. (Moviegoers see her profile through translucent glass.) While getting ready for their first date, Peter is seen trying on underwear. (We see brief close-ups of his clothed crotch—which he "rearranges"—and unclothed backside.) Peter and Lizzie have sex several times, and are seen kissing, clutching and lying in bed together under the sheets before and afterwards. Lizzie wears outfits that call attention to her breasts. Guys are seen wearing towels in steam rooms and locker rooms.
Peter hits Jake, a tennis rival and one of Lizzie’s former lovers, when Jake says something crude about Lizzie. A tennis ball served at 140 mph hits a ball boy in the face. One of Peter's opponents lashes out angrily at inanimate objects with his racquet.
Crude or Profane Language
A significant amount of swearing includes many vulgar British expressions like "w-nker," "shag," "b-llocks," "b-gger" nd "bloody," as well as an f-word and about 20 uses of the s-word. God’s name is also abused close to 20 times (twice combined with "d--n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Peter’s brother smokes and drinks on numerous occasions. Most of the characters drink at restaurants, clubs or home.
Other Negative Elements
Peter’s brother gambles heavily, often betting against Peter in hopes of winning big money. Peter's friend assigns a WWII-era racial slur to himself.
Shot on location at The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in London, Wimbledon includes cameos from real life tennis stars and commentators, including Chris Evert and John McEnroe. Along for the ride as comic relief is Jon Favreau as a mercenary but likable sports agent. It breezily and painlessly serves up everything you expect in exactly the order you expect it, with just enough laughs along the way to keep things moving.
The movie’s marketing blitz declares that it is brought to us by the producers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. It turns out that doesn’t mean it was made by any of the same writers, directors, or actors—just the same production company. And it suffers from the comparison as it leaves you longing for a Hugh Grant, a Julia Roberts, or a few unexpected plot twists to lift it above the formula. Bettany and Dunst are likable enough, but they just don’t feel natural together as the subjects of such lightweight romantic comedy. And they don’t spark the chemistry needed for a film like this to stick with you longer than 10 minutes after you leave the theater.
Still, director Richard Loncraine succeeds both in keeping the tone feather light and in presenting the actual tennis with enough visual interest to avoid tedium. The stars trained long and hard to look the part—and digital wizardry keeps the balls flying fast.
In the end, Wimbledon is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that double-faults by unrepentantly lobbing the idea that romantic love is something discovered after a little harmless sex. Peter and Lizzie begin their relationship as they presumably have started many others—by sliding under the sheets on their first date. "A little fooling around can be good for your game," Lizzie coos. "It helps you relax." After several such encounters, they begin to feel there’s more to their attraction than just the physical. It must be love.
But as we watch celebrity relationships come and go—including those between Roddick and Moore, Dunst and her former co-stars, and almost every real-life romance that has blossomed at Wimbledon between tennis players—the embrace between Peter and Lizzie as the credits role feels especially temporary. The relationship between Peter’s parents, who stubbornly remain together for love in spite of cycles of bickering and reconnecting, feels more genuine than anything Peter and Lizzie experience in their two weeks of infatuated bliss. But it's not the parents who are kissing on center court.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Paul Bettany as Peter Colt; Kirsten Dunst as Lizzie Bradbury; Nicolaj Coster Waldau as Dieter Proll; Jon Favreau as Ron Roth; Sam Neill as Dennis Bradbury; Austin Nichols as Jake Hammond
Richard Loncraine ( Firewall)