Borg vs. McEnroe

Well…game, set, match on tennis movies. With the failure of Battle of the Sexes last year (which wasn’t a bad movie), and now watching another true story about a great tennis rivalry, the realization has hit that tennis just doesn’t work on the big screen. It seems every other sport can be filmed in an exciting fashion. Even a slow sport like golf can show a hole-in-one or some terrific putt. Now, I’m not a racing fan, but Ron Howard gave us a terrific movie (Rush) about a rivalry in the Formula 1 races in the mid-70s.

It was fun that I didn’t remember the outcome of the 1980 Wimbledon finals. I was 11-years-old, and still a few years away from my Sports Illustrated subscription. But from an early age, I hated John McEnroe. His tantrums were childish. It was interesting to learn in this film, the quiet, stoic style of Bjorn Borg was actually a lot closer to McEnroe until a coach (the always terrific Stellan Skarsgard) got him to drop that bad sportsmanship and channel his anger into his game.

Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason plays Borg and looks exactly like him. Shia LaBeouf plays McEnroe, and looks nothing like him. It’s also a bit distracting because…he’s a little too perfect for the role. He’s an actor that we’ve seen throwing tantrums out in public, often ending in arrests. That takes you out of the picture a little bit, despite his performance being solid. He even brings a bit of vulnerability to the character.

It was interesting to learn tidbits about their childhoods (who knew McEnroe could multiply any two numbers, or that Borg had OCD?), but this whole thing might’ve just worked better as a documentary. A movie shouldn’t feel like it’s one long Wikipedia flick. And ya know what? When I Googled these guys to see what happens after 1980 (that wasn’t shown before the closing credits), I found that their relationship post-tennis was much more interesting than what was covered in the film. These two became the best of friends. In fact, Borg was the “best man” at McEnroe’s wedding. How did they become that close? Did McEnroe not have any other close friends? And why did Bjorg get married two more times? His first wife (a former tennis pro) seemed like the perfect match for him (no pun intended), and was good at dealing with his quirks.

The whole thing was a rather simplistic script.

The shaky camera worked for the tennis scenes, but shouldn’t have been employed in other parts of the movie; and the way the games are shot, it’s often hard to tell exactly what’s going on.

At times, the movie dragged and relied a bit too much on close-ups.

If you’re a tennis fan though, you probably shouldn’t miss this one. It’s currently playing at the Digital Gym on El Cajon Blvd.

2 stars out of 5.