Movies — Wimbledon (PG-13)


by Amy Diaz

Tennis has-been Paul Bettany courts tennis hot-shot Kirsten Dunst in the oh-so-British romance Wimbledon.

There’s something about the Brits that makes even the most tepid romantic comedies seem like a warm cup of tea—all amusingly cozy and self-deprecatingly sweet. It’s unfair, really, to American actors but our friends across the pond just have a natural leg up in the wooing department. What in an American movie seems like a big glob of sticky syrup is, in a movie with at least one British lead, a pleasant little cube of sugar.

Peter Colt (Bettany) is a 30-ish tennis pro who feels very certain that his best chance at his best years is far behind him. In possession of a wild card invite to Wimbledon, he’s rather unhappily resigned himself to the fact that it will be his last professional match and that he will quietly fade away to a life of teaching tennis to old women at a country club. His life outside the game seems just as disappointing—his wealthy, bored parents have separated (sort of—his dad moved out to the tree house) and his gambling brother forever bets against him. He heads to the big game more deflated than excited.

Peter gets a jolt out of his detachment, however, when he arrives in London and receives the key to the wrong hotel room. He walks in to a giant suit and finds, naked in the shower, rising American tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst). Lizzie seems more delighted than embarrassed to see this stammering, lovestruck lad in her room and, later when they meet on the court, they make plans to meet for fish and chips. Actually, what the bravado-filled Lizzie should have said was sex and fish and chips, because within moments of his arriving for their date she gets him interested in a little pre-match nookie. Their relationship, which Lizzie wants to just keep light and Peter falls into unabashedly, seems to have restorative powers for Peter’s game. After a surprise win in his first game, he has a few lucky breaks and unexpected victories that propel him higher and higher in the Wimbledon rankings. His countrymen soon jump on the Peter bandwagon, thrilled that for once an Englishman might win the championship.

Meanwhile, Lizzie’s dad (Sam Neill) worries that this little fling is becoming more serious and that Lizzie’s game is suffering for it. Her dad goes to great lengths to keep them apart and, as she starts to lose, even Lizzie begins to believe that Peter’s good luck might be her misfortune.

Hokey, corny, cheesy? Yes, but it’s also just so gosh darn pleasant. So nice. So charmingly decent.

Paul Bettany is the very model of a British dreamboat fantasy—roguishly handsome, self-deprecatingly funny, smart, gentlemanly but unflinching in the face of challenge, nice eyes …uhm, what? Oh, yes, Bettany, good actor, pleasing performance.

Dunst is a less convincing female romantic comedy lead. There’s something just a big rough, a bit too unsure. Luckily, this actually kind of fits with the character of the brash Lizzie. She’s been scared off love by her parents’ divorce and raised with ambition and self-reliance that makes a relationship built on more than sex a little difficult. And, the fact that the movie allows Lizzie to be sort of a player is refreshing. In a profession where she constantly has to prove herself, Lizzie’s steeliness may seem harsh, but it certainly seems realistic.

Wimbledon is no great film, not even by the somewhat soppy standards of romantic comedies, but it is perfectly, politely pleasant to sit through.

- Amy Diaz 

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