With the Stanley Cup Finals possibly wrapping up tonight and the NBA Finals all but forgotten – congrats again to the, um, Bobcats? – we are set to enter that time of year in which all we have is Major League Baseball and something known as the W-N-B-A, which begins tomorrow. It sounds exciting. But a lot of people also refer to this as the “dark time” in professional sports, so I thought I’d help them through this NFL-less void by watching and writing about a different sports movie every day leading up to the Thursday, Sept. 5 NFL season opener between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos.
I figured a fitting film to begin with is the 2004 rom com Wimbledon, starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, seeing as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova decided to already mar this year’s tournament with their petty nonsense.
If there’s one thing that Hollywood loves to do besides destroy our childhoods, beat franchises until they’re crippled heaps of once-promising ideas and pay money to Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg to violate comedy in ways that would make Jeffrey Dahmer blush, it’s combining the genres of romantic comedy and sports films. In some cases, it works (Tin Cup), while in others it fails miserably (Summer Catch, which will be handled at some point during this journey).
I like to think that Richard Loncraine’s Wimbledon fell somewhere in the middle, because it wasn’t a terrible movie by any means – I openly admit it has been a guilty pleasure in a “Well, it’s this or another Friends marathon on TV Land” kind of way – but what it possessed in terms of a fun, heartwarming love story, it more than lacked in tennis reality.
That’s not to say the casting wasn’t solid, as Paul Bettany as Peter Colt looked like your standard British tennis player, neither imposing nor threatening, while Kirsten Dunst as Lizzie Bradbury looked pretty much like any non-Serena Williams American tennis player that I’d try to pick out of a lineup. And that goes for men, too, because you could put a gun to my head right now and ask me to name an American tennis player (Venus and Serena excluded) and I’d ask to borrow your phone so I could call my lawyer and request that all my money be converted to pogs and buried with me.
What I found to be the most egregious casting mistake, though, was Austin Nichols as the young American phenom, Jake Hammond. For starters, he looked like this:
Done punching your monitor yet?
Now, if the point was to cast a sniveling twerp, then mission: accomplished. But the idea that both the men’s and women’s No. 1-ranked players were these frumpy, little Americans was poor form. Sure, I know that we have tickets to sell and seats to fill in the U.S., but I’m positive there were at least 100 Spanish actors that could have pretended to swing a tennis racquet in slow motion while Bettany’s inner monologue complains about British food and whatnot. To Nichols’ credit, he did go on to star opposite Miley Cyrus in LOL, so game, set, match for him, I suppose.
As for the story, again, it was cute and harmless – a love story between a man on the last leg of his career finding love with a girl on the verge of stardom (sort of an analogy for their actual careers, except in reverse). But were we really supposed to believe that in this era of celebrity and athlete whorishness that this would have A) happened and B) lasted? It would have been a longer shot than, well, Peter upsetting Jake. And here’s what Peter and Lizzie’s baby would have looked like if they did last:
That’s a goblin. Nobody wants that baby to be made. In reality, Lizzie would have dumped Peter by the time he was eliminated in the first round of the U.S. Open in September.
Final Grade: 2/4 Tennis Ball Dogs