Knight Ridder Newspapers
To its credit, the romantic comedy, Wimbledon is more than an hour old before it gets around to the inevitable double-meaning of love: It means nothing in tennis.
“Zero,” said Kirsten Dunst. “It only means you lose.”
Actually, when a script gets that obvious, everyone loses, but the point is that restraint is characteristic of this low-key movie. There are no surprises – what happens is exactly what you think will happen when an American hotshot (Kirsten Dunst) falls for a British veteran (Paul Bettany, from Master and Commander), a coupling that improves his tennis but weakens hers.
The movie gets oomph from its appealing stars, particularly Bettany. It would not be a surprise to learn that the Wimbledon script had Hugh Grant’s fingerprints on it when Bettany received it, but Bettany brings a sparkly lightness of touch to the Grant-trademarked role of the befuddled charmer with unruly hair. And he doesn’t have that smug, I’m-modest-because-I’m-so-clearly-adorable thing Grant sometimes has.
The movie needs the stars’ charm and director Richard Loncraine’s polish, because the faulty script is just barely good enough to hold us for 100 minutes. It’s not hard to guess where things went wrong. Wimbledon appears to have been intended as a one-man-taking-stock-of-his-stunted-life movie, in the vein of For Love of the Game or Bull Durham, but then they smushed on the romance, which fits awkwardly with that other stuff.
The awkwardness is most apparent in the lengthy finale, in which Bettany comes to terms with himself while playing a crucial match. The scene is so drawn out it gives us time to realize that, if the movie really is about tennis, it has failed to show us what big-time tennis is like behind-the-scenes. And, if the movie really is about love, then it makes no sense for the female lead to literally sit out the climax since she’s stuck in the stands, cheering.
The ending feels weirdly off-balance and unromantic, because a romantic comedy that loses sight of one of its lovers is a lot like a person trying to play a tennis match with himself.
(c) 2004, St. Paul Pioneer Press
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