Wimbledon tries hard to fill the void of good tennis films, but unfortunately it is so mired in jingoism and racism, it fails to win me over.
Whilst setting itself firmly as a romantic comedy, this film follows the long line of British romcoms, (including Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Notting Hill), that star a bumbling male British lead, entranced by an arrogant, confident, American female. Whilst this startling cultural inferiority complex may equate to amusement for British viewers, I am getting tired of it. We’ve also recently had Love Actually playing up to this with the ‘showdown’ between Hugh Grant and Billy Bob Thornton. I’m not sure why the Brits must continue making films about Americans being better than them – did their rebellion so many hundred years ago really hurt your egos that much??
The other subtext of racism against Americans is none too subtle. Every American character is a boor – Dunst, Neill, Favreau, McEnroe all play demanding, over-confident, smarmy roles. I wonder if McEnroe even realised he was being played – his role demands him to poke fun at himself, but in the end he just doesn’t seem to get it. On the other hand, Bettany is the charming bumbler, much in the Hugh Grant mould. His parents, the British crowd, even the hotel staff and ballboys, are restrained, polite and supportive.
This film is clearly a direct response to the trials and tribulations of Tim Henman, and the way the British public get behind him every year for Wimbledon, hoping he can break the long-standing run of English failures at The Open. It succeeds in its appeal to our sense of the battler, the underdog. Were it less manipulative, I might feel more charitable toward it, but I’ll admit I was really rooting for Bettany’s character to succeed. Sure, I felt dirty afterwards, but after that level of manipulation I was always going to.
The romcom component? Well, I have to admit that I still kind of see Dunst as a child, and this left me with a certain discomfort, watching her sexualism and relationship with Bettany, a man 11 years older than her. I’m not sure why this struck me more than in Spider-Man 2, for example, but I was distinctly uncomfortable. This felt very different to many films with relationships between older men and younger women – more like Lolita than Pretty Woman.
The tennis? This is one of Wimbledon’s real strengths. The on court action is shot with great camera angles and impressive SFX. Although using well-known commentators, this is a new experience, and was very enjoyable indeed.
Bettany is a star, and his performance is the real shining light. He is charming and self-effacing, and I would not be surprised if Bettany can usurp Grant as the British romcom lead du jour.
Wimbledon is a disappointing mess of jingoistic appeals to British pride, and failed romantic comedy. There are some happy moments, but overall they are swamped by the negative.Rating: