|Wimbledon: Last Bastion of Englishness|
Universal Studios (DVD), ASIN B0006A9FIM
Wimbledon: the last bastion of Englishness -- Englishness as represented by a tweedy middle age and middle class, cricket, cream teas and a sure sense of self-importance. A place where old-world values collide with a self-conscious modernity. In the England envisioned by Richard Curtis et al., London sits at the center of the universe. Anywhere north of Milton Keynes just doesn't exist, and ubiquitous, bumbling, sweet-natured blokes with posh voices (here played with poise by the versatile Paul Bettany instead of Hugh Grant) wait around for that sparkly, sexy American girl with shiny hair and beautiful teeth. But these clichés prove minor irritations in an essentially amiable and warm hearted romantic comedy.
Wimbledon transposes the usual Brit-Flick formula onto the high drama of center court, complete with grunting aplenty and blindingly white tennis kits. It tantalizes its target audience with the possibility of a British Wimbledon champion, just as hopes that our very own Tim Henman just might make it through were dashed, not too long ago.
Peter Colt (Bettany), at his best only a moderately successful professional tennis player, now languishes at the periphery of the grand slam circuit, living on past glories. He battles the specter of yet another failure, hordes of ever younger players and his encroaching retirement.
Meanwhile, temperamental rising star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) prepares to annihilate everyone who stands between her and ultimate sporting glory, keenly watched by her protective and fiercely competitive father/manager (Sam Neill) ever wary of any prospective boyfriends. Predictably, the first meeting between Peter and Lizzy sparks a mutual attraction, and a gentle romance blossoms. Until the "gentleman's game," a snotty teenage prodigy and Lizzie's draconian dad get in the way.
Peter rediscovers his championship form while Lizzie founders. Though the ending becomes apparent less than half way through the film, the chemistry between Wimbledon's comely leads, the up-market, pristine locations and the beautiful weather ensure that the film bounces along pleasantly. The best lines go to Peter's devoted female followers (led by Celia Imrie), his warring parents and hapless brother, and supporting players Jon Favreau (as Peter's unscrupulous agent) and a strangely mustached Robert Lindsay.
The unremarkable but mercifully brief DVD extras focus mainly on interviews with the cast and crew, and an interesting mini-documentary on how to achieve those terrifying grass serves and volleys without actually playing any tennis. (The trick depends on a computer, several cameras and a small army of people.)
Touted on the sleeve as "from the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones and Notting Hill," Wimbledon never quite attains the hilarity and poignancy of its predecessors. But it makes an entertaining alternative to the endless shots of sweaty spectators replete with strawberries, cream and champagne in plastic cups found in live-action coverage. At the same time, it proves perfectly accessible to the uninitiated as well as the most committed armchair tennis fans.
Maysa M. Hattab
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