Sometimes, I go to the cinema without any prior knowledge of a film. This was exactly the case this weekend, when, after watching the other UK wide release – Kingsman 2 – on Thursday, I chose to see Borg vs. McEnroe on Saturday, just because I saw it advertised at the box office.
IMDb summary: The story of the 1980s tennis rivalry between the placid Björn Borg and the volatile John McEnroe.
- Borg vs. McEnroe is a Scandinavian movie (more specifically a Swedish one), written by Ronnie Sandahl and directed by a Janus Metz Pedersen (who is Danish rather than Swedish). This is where my level of knowledge ends: I haven’t seen a lot of films from Scandinavia (have seen a couple so that’s something) nor any of the previous pictures by these filmmakers. Pedersen has directed some episodes of the second season of True Detective, though, but I’ve also yet to watch it.
- No matter how unfamiliar I was/am with these filmmakers, I have always/universally enjoyed the genre of sports dramas, especially its entries who make me appreciate a sport that I had no prior interest in or make me root for athletes whose names I didn’t know before. I rarely watch tennis on TV and I have maybe played it for fun once or twice in my life. Not surprisingly, I didn’t know anything about Bjorg or McEnroe (I barely know the tennis stars of today). And yet, this film made me care about and also educated me about both the sport and the people involved.
- The narrative had an effective structure: at the center of it was the 1980’s Wimbledon tournament, while the scenes from the athletes’ personal lives and flashbacks from their childhoods were interspersed throughout the runtime of the movie. Thematically, Borg vs. McEnroe touched upon the pressure of the high-level professional sport (the pressure from family, friends, coaches, the public or the pressure that one puts on oneself), the fame that comes with it, the emotions that runt through it, and, lastly, its pillars of sportsmanship and friendship. The film also mentioned a very interesting idea about tennis being a sport exclusive only for a certain cast/elite group. Later in the fall, Battle of the Sexes will explore how tennis is a gendered sport. My only critique of the script is the fact that I wish they would have situated tennis in a context of all sports, rather than put it on a pedestal as the ‘it/best’ sport.
- The directing of the picture was really good. The emotions as well as the intensity were palpable throughout the whole movie, but especially in the 3rd act recreation of the final match. The fact that the movie used a lot of dialogue in the Swedish language (rather than just English, like so many films do in order to reach a wider audience) added a level of authenticity too. The 80s setting was also well-realized and highly appreciated somebody who does wear a headband to gym and has a few color-blocked sweatshirts in her wardrobe.
- The two leads: Sverrir Gudnason and Shia Lebouf did a very good job both with the dramatic scenes as well as with the sports scenes (or they had amazing body doubles). Lebouf’s real-life eccentric personality fit his character perfectly. Stellan Skarsgård (one of the few Swedish actors that I know, mostly because he works in Hollywood more than in his native Sweden) was as good as he always is. Tuva Novotny also had a small role in the film, for the first half of it, I mistook her for Noomi Rapace. Robert Emms also cameoed as Lithuanian-American tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis, who I’m only mentioning because of the shared heritage between him and me.
In short, Borg vs. McEnroe was an entertaining, informative, and emotional sports drama, with a neat message about rivalry and friendship in a sport: ‘Former Rivals, Best Enemies’.
Trailer: Borg vs. McEnroe trailer