|Wimbledon has the fortunate honor of boasting the wonderfully droll Paul Bettany in the lead roll, who is an actor that, with this performance, will convince even the most hardened viewers that a formulaic romantic comedy can be an entertaining couple of hours. More than that, Bettany proves easily that he can carry the lead role in a major motion picture. Having played second fiddle on several large films since the beginning of this century (A Knight's Tale, A Beautiful Mind, and Master and Commander), Bettany's crossing to the lead role in a picture seems an easy and natural progression for the actor.|
Kirsten Dunst plays her familiar role with ease, though it's sometimes apparent that her casting was probably not the most intelligent move on the casting director's part. Her tennis style is polished enough for the average viewer (who will doubtlessly have little knowledge of the sport of tennis), but her scenes with Bettany seem difficult and forced at times. It's probably more Dunst's dialogue that makes her character at times seem less than genuine.
And the dialogue in this film is probably its largest weakness overall. The scenes and progression of a "familiar" (read: predictable) film can usually be forgiven in the face of superb performances (as in the case of Bettany) or jumpy dialogue. In Wimbledon though, there is more than one instance where the dialogue just doesn't cut it. A large part of the charm of a romantic comedy is its ability to keep the audience engaged with the "witty repartee" of a couple of mismatched lovers.
The film's dialogue will be a major sticking point for viewers unable to fully immerse themselves in the love story. The spirited pace of the film (along with the inner monologue from Bettany's character) is one of this film's lifesavers as the movie's hundred or so minutes easily trot by at an impressive gait. Particularly entertaining are the sequences of voice-over dialogue by Bettany, coming mostly when he's on the tennis court, waiting to serve the ball. These snippets seem to be more spontaneous and creative than the rest of the dialogue in the film and add greatly to the high-energy game sequences.
The supporting cast in the film seems to be suitably hired, with the usual array of stock characters filling their requisite roles with ease. As the comic relief, James McAvoy plays the role of Bettany's younger brother, "Carl," with enough gusto, though his physical comedy seems to come out of nowhere at times and is at odds with the otherwise graceful film. Playing Bettany's father, Bernard Hill can boast one of the best supporting performances in the film and he is well cast opposite the usually theatrical Eleanor Bron, who plays Bettany's mother. In the role of Dunst's protective father, Sam Neill makes the best of his few scenes, though his success in the part is not a surprise as he regularly gives strong performances in all his roles. Jon Favreau owns the most cliché role in the film, playing a sports agent, and while his performance is not one for the record books, he infuses his role with appropriate enthusiasm.
This film will never be placed high in the annals of romantic comedy filmmaking, but the movie never comes across as attempting to be anything more. In fact, the film succeeds more often than not simply because it doesn't try to create anything more impressive than a simple hundred minute diversion. The question of whether one should give a film a "break" regarding its creativity seems a moot point when considering this film, as its creators obviously had a very specific audience in mind. And that audience (a female skewing, romantic comedy loving demographic) should be suitably entertained by this film.
The movie probably won't bring in any die-hard sports or tennis fans, though the sporting scenes are well-constructed and convincingly portrayed by the actors for the casual viewer. The real point of this film isn't the sporting events anyway. It's more the emotional journey of Paul Bettany's aging tennis player. The story just happens to take place in the world of tennis. The basic story line could have been applied to any sport where the chief players are usually in their teens.
And the tennis match sequences shouldn't be discounted completely. They're well photographed and expertly edited. The editing in the action sequences is exciting and swift without being choppy or jerky. And with the impressively green cinematography of the English countryside and the busy streets of London filling most of the scenes, viewers are treated to more than just beautiful people on screen. Wimbledon is a well constructed film that might not be worth the evening show price for all audiences, but that should satisfy admirers of Bettany's work and romantic comedy fans.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.