Beat JENeration #008: Five Tennistastic Movies

Since everyone still seems to be talking about the U.S. Open, I’m wondering if I can get away with writing about tennis this week. Whaddya think?

Though just between us, after Roger Federer and Marin Cilic fell off the bracket, I was already over the U.S. Open and thinking about the Davis Cup Semis.

And by the way, if you think you care about tennis at all, shut up and watch the Davis Cup this weekend. 

FRANCE v SPAIN  on indoor hard-court. (I think Spain might win, but I really want to see France take this one because…)

CROATIA v USA on outdoor clay. (…Croatia is going to maintain its unbeaten Davis Cup win record against the US and once they get to the Finals I know they will do what the Croatian team couldn’t in the World Cup…)

Sorry. I am sure not a single one of you wanted to read that, but at least I’m not waxing on about Serena’s meltdown, nor Fed’s new ugly Uniqlo court wear. Though I cannot stop myself from saying that Bethanie Mattek-Sands isn’t getting the attention she deserves for her mixed doubles victory…

Again, sorry. It’s very hard to stop myself, even though I realize you probably want to read about tennis as much as I want to read about football. Except if it’s Friday Night Lights. I figure if I can embrace a show about the sport I hate most in this world, then there must be a way I can rally my readership into fictional scripted tennis entertainment.

Five best Tennistainment movies…..go! 

Wimbledon (2004)

A rom-com yes. But a rom-com where Paul Bettany (that’s right, Vision) plays Paul Colt, a journeyman in this thirties who has fallen from 11 to 119 in the ATP rankings. He’s set to go out in the first round of Wimbledon and move on to giving lessons at a posh country club until…he has a rando meetup on the practice court with Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), the American WTA bratty It Girl. Of course, her dad/coach isn’t into it, but there can’t be a Romeo/Juliet trope without a parent ready to freak out. 

What I really love about this movie is Nicholaj Colster-Waldu as Paul’s practice partner (I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but apparently he is famous for more than this small role). And also (a pre-Shameless) James McAvoy plays Paul’s younger sassier brother Carl. As an added bonus Jon Faverau is an obnoxious agent and John McEnroe plays himself.

The fast cuts during the match scenes are chaotic and can be a bit distracting at times, but I think it effectively makes the viewer feel the pressure with each point. But really, this is a love story in a sports setting and the drama off the court is draw.

Tennistainment Rating: A 3.5 Women’s League match where you lose Line 1 because the other team cheated, but you team wins on the other three lines, and you ultimately go home victorious…plus the hosting country club had a solid lunch spread with amazing chocolate chip cookies.

 

Borg Vs. McEnroe (2017)

Confession: I think John McEnroe is an asshole of epic proportions, but I’m also a huge fan. I remember when this trailer came out and I was so intrigued with Sverrir Gudnason, the actor who plays Björn Borg, but was disgusted by the casting of Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe. I literally screamed “You cannot  be serious!” as I threw my iPad onto my bed in disgust.  Okay, yes they both potentially have the same level of douche baggery, but Shia LaBeouf, I just couldn’t go there.  Until…it was a movie choice on a plane and having already just watched the first two Thor films, I decided to make it a Stellan Skarsgård marathon.

God bless Stellan Skarsgård!

Skarsgård plays Borg’s coach, Lennart Bergelin. There’s no warm and fuzzy with that Swede, but it’s more complex than simply jealousy. Though, I still ended up liking him better than McEnroe’s dad.

Also a stand out performance by Robert Emma as Vitas Gerulatis.  But let’s be honest, anyone every pretending to be Vitas Gerulatis is going to be the coolest person in the movie.  Where in the hell is his bio-pic?

Even though I knew the outcome of Borg & McEnroe’s 1980 Wimbledon championship match, the excitement did not waiver for one sec.  Every point in this movie is dynamic. These are two players dealing with the same demons in different ways. One is ice-cold and unshakable while the other is hot explosive mess. As the match plays out, you see their backstories. It’s tense. Like foreign film tense. This isn’t a feel good, empowering sports movie.

Tennistainment Rating: Roger Federer’s backhand.

 

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Dealing with the 1973 match between the #1 Ranked Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone) and former champ and current gambling fool, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) this is mandatory viewing for all young feminists — but it’s also enjoyable aside from it being a teaching moment.

While most of the movie revolves around King’s personal struggles coming to terms with own sexuality and the fight for pay equality in women’s tennis, the movie is most enjoyable on the court. Riggs was so obnoxious that I was on the edge of my seat with every point King lost.  Like Borg Vs. McEnroe, I knew the outcome, but it was directed so well that I kept second-guessing what I knew.  This is totally empowering AND the tennis outfits are spectacular!

My favorite casting in this is Sarah Silverman as World Tennis publisher and founder of the Virginia Slims Tour (the precursor of the WTA) Gladys Heldman.

Tennistainment Rating: The power of Sabine Lisicki’s 131mph serve at the 2007 US Open meets the feeling of watching Elton John cheer on his bestie Billie Jean from the sidelines.

 

16 Love (2012)

When #1 ranked junior player, Ally Mash (Lindsey Shaw, Paige from Pretty Little Liars) has a nasty fall on the court, she finally gets to see how normal teenagers live. It’s a teen rom-com set at a tennis tournament with added benefit of family drama.  What’s not love? 

The actual tennis matches aren’t nail-biters, but you care because you want the Russian Regina George to go down hard.

Fun fact: It was filmed at the La Costa Resort in North County San Diego, where I’ve played many a match. I say go for the tennis, but stay for their snack mix in the lobby bar.

Tennistainment Rating: Maria Sharapova.

 

Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951)

SoCal teenage tennis prodigy Florence Farley has a royal bitch of mom. Florence played some high school tennis and likes to hit the ball against the garage, so she’s totally stoked to have dishy Gordan McKay invite her to the country club to play. But that’s not enough for her social-climbing mamma. When Florence is sponsored by the club to go to the national junior championship her mom meets fellow-schemer Fletcher Locke. As the two of them play fast and loose with Florence’s amateur status to line their own pockets, our girl just wants to retire and get married. And then to add insult to injury, her dad is on his death bed. Oh, the drama of it all set to vintage Forest Hills and Wimbledon before the Open era.

The tennis itself isn’t the exciting part of this movie. Maybe it’s because it’s black and white and the shots are mostly long ones. Ida Lupino’s directing skills are better served in scenes of emotional struggles rather than the athletic ones.

The movie is based on John R. Tunis’s 1930 novel American Girl, a thinly veiled fictionalization about Helen Wills Moody, one of the most dominant tennis players of the 20th century. We’re talking 31 Grand Slam titles and in 1933 she beat of the 8th ranked male player in an exhibition match (take that Battle of the Sexes!), but I never felt that kind of kick-assedness about Florence’s playing in this movie, unfortunately. (Yet another tennis movie someone needs to make!).

Tennistainment Rating: The heartbreak of 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-7 (10-12).