Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany
Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett
I tend to select odd films as guilty pleasures. Ever so often, a Hollywood, cliche' ridden film just really hits the spot for me. This has included such films as "Rudy" and, on a certain level, even "Hoosiers."
"Wimbledon" is such a film for me. It is a Hollywood, cliche' ridden film with lots of flaws but it appeals to me because of its simplicity, heart and winning performances by Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst.
"Wimbledon" is the story, essentially, of two pro tennis players. Peter Colt (How many times has that name been used in a film?), played by Paul Bettany, has announced the tournament as his last after falling on hard times and being ranked #119 in the world. Lizzie Bradbury, played by Dunst, is at the top of her game and one of the favorites at Wimbledon. They meet, he becomes inspired and she becomes somewhat distracted. It's a fairly basic story with nothing really original to offer throughout the story. Indeed, nearly everything here is remarkably predictable.
Yet, what I find charming with this film is what I often adore about Hugh Grant's British films. There's a simplicity, an honesty and a sincerity that just constantly made me smile and constantly held my interest. Even as I knew exactly what would happen, I found myself wanting to see it happen. I wanted the "Hollywood" happy ending.
Bettany, who I've never been particularly fond of, adds a likeability to his character that makes it nearly impossible to not root for him. He treats Lizzie well, his family well, the hotel staff well and the ballboy well. He is a respected player even though he's nearly universally accepted as a "loser" without the killer instinct necessary to really win. Bettany takes this English tennis player and does a nice job of balancing his character's insecurities and yet the confidence underneath. Is it an award-winning performance? No. It is, however, a very appealing one that balances well to Dunst.
Dunst, on the other hand, is able to do tremendous things by simply looking at the camera. Her eyes communicate powerfully, and she emotes with her entire body. That works well with this character, who is immensely driven and yet obviously hungers for a touch of humanity.
Most of the other characters in the film are mostly caricatures, including Sam Neill as Lizzie's dad and performances by Robert Lindsay and Jon Favreau.
The film, produced by Working Title films, is similar in tone to their earlier hits such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill." The soundtrack is exceptional and works well with the action. I still find myself singing along to a David Gray tune I heard early in the film.
There are irritating aspects to this film, most notably the lack of anticipation and energy during Colt's final match. The cinematographer made a couple odd choices during this match that pulled me immediately out of the action. Additionally, while the "Hollywood" worked for me I wanted more character development in the script. Finally, while I liked the introduction of inner dialogue during the closing match it became a bit overdone...especially when combined with the slow motion camera work.
Truthfully, I'm unsure if "Wimbledon" is truly a "B" film...yet, it becomes a "B" film because through the cliche's and flaws I found myself tremendously enjoying the film. I cared about the resolution of the film, and the closure for these characters. Sometimes, a film just works...it may not be a perfect film...it may not razzle and dazzle...it may not feature the finest production values or even the best acting in the world. For me, "Wimbledon" works and I'm glad I watched it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic