Sunday, 7 October 2012

Review: Wimbledon

Released in 2004, Wimbledon stars Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany as entrants to Wimbledon, she being young and ambitious and brilliant, he being 'old' and past-it and intending to enjoy one last Grand Slam as a wildcard entrant before retiring from professional tennis. Spoilers ahead.

I was really enjoying this film until about halfway through. There was a questionable scene at the beginning, where Peter Colt (Bettany) arrives at the Dorchester hotel and is given the wrong key, and walks in on Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst) in the shower. Instead of him being shocked and appalled and getting out of the room as fast as humanly possible, and Lizzie being angry and indignant, she smirks vampishly and displays her body unashamedly for Peter (if not, thankfully, for the camera). Peter stutters and stumbles and does his best Hugh Grant impression, hilariously getting his words mixed up so he accidentally says to her "good body" instead of "good luck": a classic error that could have happened to anyone. I know I always mix up those two words.

So far, so predictable. But that didn't make me angry, it just made me a little tired. He invades her privacy, she giggles and enjoys the attention. What made me really, truly angry was where the plot went from there.

Lizzie comes on to Peter, who can't believe his luck when she makes it clear that she'd like to have sex with him, mostly (as she also makes clear) because she believes "fooling around" on the night before a match improves her performance the next day. The two of them have sex; they have a montage; Lizzie's father/coach/owner warns Peter off Lizzie; Peter punches Lizzie's arrogant ex-lover in the face; Lizzie and Peter run away to Brighton and have lots of sex and pretend tennis and breakfast in bed. Then Peter's brother sells a photo of the couple to a newspaper, and suddenly the house is surrounded by press, and Lizzie's father arrives to shepherd her back to London. Lizzie, hiding, overhears her father's monologue to Peter about how Lizzie needs to remember her lifelong dream of winning Wimbledon, and how she's throwing it all away by falling for Peter, because actually liking someone means that her game suffers. Lizzie comes out of hiding saying "I still want it. I want to win Wimbledon. I'm sorry", and she leaves with him to return to London and training while Peter trails after them:

"You're gonna go?"
"Yeah. He's right. I'm sorry."
"Wait a second. Lizzie? Lizzie! Lizzie, this is ridiculous, you're a grown woman and you should be making your own decisions - 
"This is my decision! We can be together after the tournament."
"After the tournament - ! What does that mean, you can't just switch me on and off like a bloody lightbulb - I'll call you at the hotel."
"I'm sorry kid. When she's with you she just - can't play."

And so, back to the tennis. Peter, long assumed to be past it, has been playing surprisingly well in this tournament, and has enjoyed two shock wins to reach the third round, where he will face highly-ranked Englishman Tom Cavendish. In his first round match, he fought back from two sets down after seeing Lizzie in the crowd watching him, the day after they have first slept together. This becomes a trope for the two of them, but it only goes one way: Peter gains strength from her support, but we never see him attend Lizzie's matches - not until things have fallen apart. In this third round match, Peter is playing terribly and is on the point of losing when Cavendish injures himself, allowing Peter to capitalise on his advantage and secure his place in the semi-finals. Meanwhile Lizzie, whose matches have had a tiny amount of screen time compared to Peter's, is assumed to be a sure-thing, and has been whipping through her matches with ease. Now, however, despite assuring her father that she's focussed and that "he's out of [her] head", she is listening to Peter's match on the radio in the car on the way to her own match. After winning his match, Peter goes to watch Lizzie's, and happens to receive some top-quality counsel from his sponsor:

"Me, I hate making a decision. Like right now, I'm very very afraid. If you don't see that girl again it's gonna mess with your head, it'll screw up your confidence, on the other hand I'm terrified, I'm petrified if I tell you where that girl's camped out her father's gonna fire my ass." 
"Where's the girl camped out Ron?" 
"32 Kensington Place. First floor apartment. I made a decision."
"Me too."

Ron, who sponsors both athletes, has for reasons passing understanding chosen Peter over Lizzie. Lizzie is young and ambitious and has potential. This tournament is Peter's last hurrah: he has already announced his retirement. Professionally, the decision to help Peter win makes no sense at all for Ron. The only reason it does make sense is if Ron wants to help Peter get laid. Which it does. We cut straight from that shot into one of Peter breaking into Lizzie's house, surprising her in bed. Once again, instead of screaming blue murder and telling him to get the hell out, she looks slightly annoyed before calmly accepting the fact that Peter has just invaded her privacy yet again - not to mention committed a crime. Here's how it goes:

"Peter! What are you doing here?"
"That's an excellent question. The sad fact of the matter is, I can't seem to get through 24 hours without you."
"I've missed you, Peter, Peter Colt."
"You have?"
"But I need you to go."
"No, you need me to stay."
"Peter - "
"Peter - "
"Lizzie. People have fallen in love before, you know."
"Oh, is that what we're doing here?"

Giggling and kissing. Joke. Heavy breathing. Cut to the next morning and Peter leaving without waking Lizzie to go to his semi-final match. At Lizzie's match, things start to go wrong when a string on her racket breaks, and she is distracted by a man yelling at her and brandishing a newspaper with Peter's photo on the front and the words "Lover Boy". Lizzie loses her match. Peter wins his.

Peter does seem to care that Lizzie has lost, and accepts, however minimally, that he may not have acted in her best interests. But when they argue about it, he doesn't apologise for putting his needs ahead of hers, or for not respecting her wishes when she leaves him or when she tells him she needs him to go. Instead, the argument is a chance for us to see that Lizzie is a heartless woman who only cares about winning, and to whom "Love means nothing" (her words). The two part on bad terms, and Peter skulks tragically about the place until it's time for his final.

And who is Peter playing in the final, but Lizzie's arrogant ex-lover, wunderkind Jake Hammond who, in the tunnel, says to Peter with a shrug "I tried to warn you about her." The kid is clearly a nasty piece of work, displaying unpleasant gamesmanship and not seeming to care when he hits a ball boy in the face with his serve, something which has previously distinguished Peter from his competitors: he is a nice man, and when Hammond shows a callous lack of care about injuring a small boy, he gets angry. This doesn't improve his game, however: Peter only manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after Lizzie arrives to give him a pep talk during a rain break when he is 2 sets and 5 games to 1 down. She has come to help him win after hearing his tear-jerking pre-match speech about how love - meaning Lizzie - is the only reason he is in the final at all, and how truly sorry he is for having let her down. She was about to board a flight back to America, but instead she rushes back to Wimbledon to tell Peter she loves him, and when he apologises for his behaviour, she tells him "Forget about that! This is about you. Go out there and decide who you are." She also tells him how to read Hammond's serve, allowing Peter to come back from certain defeat. When it's looking dire, right at the end, Peter once more catches Lizzie's eye in the crowd, giving him the strength to play a blinding final point to win the championship.

There's an awful lot to hate about this plot, and a large part of it is how it revolves around Peter rather than Lizzie. This is inevitable, since Peter is the protagonist - we are with him from the beginning of the film, and Lizzie is the love-interest rather than getting equal billing. On the other hand, Lizzie's tennis is so completely sidelined by Peter's that it's rather sickening. As I have said, her matches get a tiny amount of screen time compared to Peter's, and the fact that she has to be knocked out of the tournament is galling: not only does she have to lose in order to prove that it's true that she can't focus on both love and tennis, she also has to lose in order to be free to be there for Peter when he needs her. She couldn't have counselled him through his final if she was focussed on her own, could she? The bludgeoned-home message is that love is damaging to Lizzie's tennis. It is clear that having sex is helpful to her - she describes it as relaxing, and when she and Peter are just having sex before their matches, everything goes well for her. It's when the narrative shows us that they are falling for each other that Lizzie's tennis starts to suffer, whereas love only improves Peter's game. When things start to go wrong between them, however, Peter's game suffers whilst Lizzie's remains stable. Lizzie loses after they have reconciled - after Peter has broken into her house and told her that they're falling in love.

Yet more galling is Lizzie's treatment as a possession of the men in her life. Throughout the film Lizzie is controlled by her father, and although she rebels against him it's only in order to spend time with another man who wants to dominate her attention, sulking when it is refused. Peter, for his part, wants Lizzie to make her own decisions, but only if she makes the decision to stay with him rather than go with her father. Then there's Hammond, who is set up as a possessive ex-lover and, on discovering that Lizzie and Tom are sleeping together, tells her "I thought all those things they said about you were just rumours, but you really are a cheap little - " and that's when Peter punches him in the face. Lizzie, incidentally, is excited by this, telling Peter that nobody has ever fought for her honour before, and that she kinda likes it. It's telling that this is the man that Peter has to beat in the final. It's almost as if he has to prove that he's worthy of Lizzie, because of course women don't like losers. It's ok for Lizzie to lose, though, because Peter's last hurrah is far more important. And, after all, he does make it clear that, now that the important stuff is out of the way, he's ready to make Lizzie's career his priority:

"There's so much I want to say to you!"
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Oh yes you are. You're going a long, long way!"

And in the voiceover at the end, over cute montages of Peter and Lizzie playing tennis with two little blond moppets, we learn that Lizzie did win the US Open. And Wimbledon. Twice. So that's ok then. She's allowed to succeed in her career - as long as she has succeeded in love first.

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