R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Richard Loncraine
scr Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
with Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, James McAvoy, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, Austin Nichols, Robert Lindsay, Celia Imrie, Jonathan Timmins, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Mary Carillo, John Barrett
release US 17.Sep.04, UK 24.Sep.04
04/UK 1h38

Love is nothing in tennis: Bettany and Dunst

neill favreau mcavoy
Wimbledon (U.K. Quad) Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
Working Title seems to have a corner on British romantic comedies (Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, you name it), especially when combined with British wish-fulfilment fantasies (a prime minister to be proud of in Love Actually, an English tennis champ here). Fortunately, they're very good at what they do, and this entertaining, energetic film is a real crowd-pleaser.

Peter Colt (Bettany) is almost a has-been tennis star, competing in one more tournament--on a wild card entry at Wimbledon--before retiring to a private club to coach leering middle-aged women. But he surprises everyone when he wins his first-round match, and spurred on by a furtive love affair with the up-and-coming American player Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst) he goes further than he ever expected. Of course there are obstacles such as a match against his buddy Dieter (Coster Waldau), the sudden reappearance of his fast=talking agent (Favreau), and the interference of Lizzie's father (Neill). Can he find the strength to go the distance?

The best news is that the film bristles with spiky energy and offhanded details that bring all the characters to vivid life. Loncraine directs the film dynamically, with whizzy camera movements and intriguing frame composition that at least keeps it from looking like a standard rom-com. Even though we know that's what it is. The script is sharply witty, with hilarious eccentricities thrown in throughout the story (most notably in Peter's scruffy-posh family, very well-played by McAvoy, Hill and Bron). And there's a real spark of chemistry between Bettany and Dunst, both of whom give solid performances that add layers of intriguing depth while they keep us laughing and sighing.

There's a wonderful feeling of authenticity in the behind-the-scenes action--the celebrity, rivalry, camaraderie, superstitions are all touched on intriguingly. On the other hand there's some truly wonky English geography on display, as well as some rather dodgy computer-generated tennis balls. Yet even if details are strangely careless (a semifinal on an outside court? NBC TV reception in London?), we still get caught up in it, cheering for both victory and true love even though we know exactly what will happen.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 6.Sep.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall