Knowing that I would likely be unable to leave the house much last weekend, suffering from a cold from hell that refuses to die, I rented four movies. I proceeded to watch all four, and in fact rented a fifth (turns out I can’t watch Before Sunrise again without watching its sequel Before Sunset another time as well). My mood was eclectic, as evidenced by the films I picked up: The Woodsman, Before Sunrise, P.S., and Wimbledon.
Considering I have so many movies to write about, let’s try something a bit different here—I’ll write about each movie, but in a separate entry. Yet I suspect common themes will run throughout all the entries as I examine the ways they perhaps parallel or comment upon each other.
All four films feature a romance at the center of the plot. I’m not really a romantic movie person—I avoid the Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts type romantic comedy nonsense that perpetuates various romantic myths while avoiding any deeper insight into the true challenge of maintaining love over time. Truthfully, I simply can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to tolerate the gross inconsistencies of romantic comedies.
Take Wimbledon. I rented this in honor of a friend who would have enjoyed the simple and passionate love presented: “I wish I had a boyfriend,” she would opine. Yet cynical, crusty me instead marveled that despite being in the midst of the Wimbledon competition, the two top competitors find the time to spend an entire day in the country. They even enjoy a 10-mile run, in completely inappropriate shoes that would ruin better feet than theirs. Sure, the movie mentions their practice matches, but these occur for the most part off screen.
Of course, this movie isn’t really about sports—it is a love story. Actually, that isn’t true, either. Wimbledon tells the story of a washed up, rich kid tennis star, Peter Colt (played by Paul Bettany), who never reached his full potential. After engaging in a sexual relationship with Kirsten Dunst’s American superstar Lizzie Bradbury, however, Colt suddenly starts to win. Achieving sexual potency, Colt attains a certain athletic potency as well. He suddenly has a reason to win: to impress a girl. Wow. My point, however, is that the film isn’t really about two people falling in love and dealing with the ramifications of being in a relationship. Rather, the film focuses on how the male character becomes a better athlete and person through sex, er…, love.
In essence, Colt discovers he needs to bed Lizzie in order to win. Sex doesn’t have the same effect on Lizzie, who loses her match after Colt sneaks into her bedroom for his fix. An angry Lizzie refuses to see Colt. So of course he starts to lose in the finals. Thankfully, the film didn’t get really gross. When Lizzie shows up in his locker room during the Wimbledon final, I almost expected the couple to engage in a quickie—you know, so Lizzie could show she was a team player. Instead, they just talked. And suddenly, Colt returns to the game a better player.
Lizzie’s career takes a nosedive after the romance blossoms, though the script also credits superstition and just bad luck for her loss in the quarter round. But her career matters most to her father. For in allowing Colt to sneak into her bed the night before she loses, Lizzie chooses Colt over winning. Repeatedly she ignores her father’s advice to keep her focus on the game in order to spend time with her boyfriend.
So what theme can we take from this? Love makes men feel stronger and better versions of themselves. Women become distracted and choose men over focusing on themselves. Am I being too harsh?
I will admit that I was surprised the film focused so much on Bettany’s character. The previews led me to believe the movie’s story was more egalitarian. Yet we never get inside Lizzie's mind like we do Colt's. Her loss happens off screen, and her eventual success as a tennis star exists only as a side note mentioned by Colt's character as he wraps up the film's narrative at the end.
Of course, the producers are no dummies: Dunst is a bigger star than Bettany, best known for marrying the hot girl from A Beautiful Mind (a film he also starred in, actually). So it is no surprise Dunst running around in a short tennis skirt dominated the commercials and trailer for the film. Yet as I will demonstrate, Wimbledon is not alone in its narrow focus on one member of a love relationship. To be continued…
Interesting note: one of the script’s credited writers, Adam Brooks, also wrote the Bridget Jones sequel, Practical Magic, and French Kiss. An entire career based on romance. Wonder how he lives with himself.