Tomorrow is the conclusion of this year’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships and, as ever, it’s been two weeks of blood, sweat, tears, thrills, spills and strawberries. It’s a sport of quiet intensity and sharp visual dualism, which since the mid-20th century has inspired not only fans but a number of film directors (1951's Hard, Fast and Beautiful, and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train are early examples) in search of a starkly oppositional plot device. Sport tends to struggle when translated to the big screen. Not so tennis, which has shone in many contexts—best when it's used as a convenient stage for a scene or a dubious metaphor, not so much when entire films are given over to the sport (hi, Wimbledon). Today we share our five favorite movie match-points.
The Big Mouth
In this diamond-chasing, knockabout comedy Jerry Lewis takes a tennis lesson from an increasingly irritated, but impeccably beautiful coach named Bambi, played by Jeannine Riley. There are misunderstandings about “grip“ and the meaning of the word “ambidextrous.” Hilarity ensues, provided you enjoy slightly grating farce. And fart jokes.
A marginally unrealistic tale of a tennis “hustler” who makes it all the way to the Wimbledon finals as an unseeded player, featuring a young Steve Guttenberg and a cameo from John McEnroe. Rumours that McEnroe reacted to Guttenberg’s eerily accurate prediction that he would be starring in pantomime by 2008 with the words “you cannot be serious” are unconfirmed.
Woody Allen’s classic rom-com features tennis in its crucial scene: when Woody—sorry, Alvy—meets Annie. They pair up for a doubles match, he awkwardly compliments her game, she awkwardly offers him a lift, they awkwardly end up kissing. The rest is ultra-neurotic history.
The Squid And The Whale
This indie coming-of-age tale kicks off with a charged doubles game that pits mother Laura Linney against father Jeff Daniels. Daniels’ character tells his son to “target your mother’s backhand, it’s pretty weak.” They’re announcing their divorce to the kids a matter of scenes later. That’s some nice parenting, Jeff.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Luke Wilson plays tennis pro Richie Tenenbaum, halfway between Bjorn Borg (in his 70s hairbanded pomp) and the beardy, sunglasses-masked insanity of the Unabomber. Tennis does not a happy Richie make: like Borg, he retires early, at the peak of his powers. He’s also in love with his adopted sister (Gwyneth Paltrow), which can’t have helped at all.