Wimbledon Movie Review
More moderately charming than a romantic comedy should be with stars as charismatic and irresistible as Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany -- but charming nonetheless -- "Wimbledon" is a cute mutt of cross-breeding between sports movie formula and chick-flick producers.
A product of the team behind "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually," it's a rousing athletic-underdog story about low-ranked, self-stymied pro tennis player Peter Colt (Bettany, from "A Knight's Tale," "A Beautiful Mind" and "Master and Commander") who finds his groove by falling in love with Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst), the rising-star queen troublemaker of women's tennis.
Full of confidence and flirtatious sass, very soon after their meet-cute (he's accidentally given the key to her hotel suite and walks in on her showering) she says to him, "Where do you come down on the fooling-around-before-a-match issue?" But she barely gives him time to answer, in the process giving a miraculous boost to his game at the world's most important tennis tournament -- and turning hers to mush.
But "Wimbledon" is far more about Peter than Lizzie, which is one of its shortcomings: Although popping with personality, for all practical purposes Dunst is relegated to just being The Girl. We barely even get a chance to see her play tennis. Wouldn't some of the time the film spends on the rekindling of Peter's parents' rocky marriage been put to better use expanding on Lizzie's character and her relationship with her ambitious, short-leash father (Sam Neill)?
"Wimbledon" finds its best footing on the court, with Bettany providing a funny and perceptive internal dialogue as he pep-talks himself to bewildering victories while director Richard Loncraine (1995's "Richard III") builds an infectious vivacity into the scenes with snappy camerawork, sweaty close-ups and a score that gets your heart pumping.
Unfortunately, these scenes start to wear thin in the last 15 minutes (the Big Match, natch) because the film has such a transparently fore-drawn, feel-good conclusion that waiting for all the pieces (some of them highly improbable) to fall into place becomes tedious.
But it's more a lack of memorable sparkle between the leads that keeps "Wimbledon" from soaring. Both Bettany and Dunst are superb actors, but while he seems truly, endearingly smitten, she's not given enough to work with. Indomitable Lizzie falls for Peter in spite of a lackadaisical attitude toward love, and by playing up her resistance the script burdens Dunst with an inaccessibility that makes her harder to root for. You get the feeling within a week or two she'd be OK whether Peter won her heart or not.
"Wimbledon" is enjoyable nonetheless, but it lacks magic.
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