fri 03/02/2023

McEnroe review - documentary about the original bad boy of tennis | reviews, news & interviews

McEnroe review - documentary about the original bad boy of tennis

McEnroe review - documentary about the original bad boy of tennis

Illuminating contributions from family and friends

Barney Douglas's film about John McEnroe has several moody shots of him walking late at night in the area of Queens where he grew up

Over the past few weeks, countless columns have been written about Nick Kyrgios, who lost in the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic. Who knows if the Australian will watch this illuminating documentary about the original “bad boy of tennis” to see how his own career may pan out?

Barney Douglas's film – essentially a long-form interview with John McEnroe, interspersed with generous archive footage, contributions from family and friends including Billie Jean King, home movies and moody shots of the player-turned-commentator walking the streets of Douglaston in Queens, the New York neighbourhood where he grew up – is clearly made by an admirer.

But even if Douglas's eye isn't particularly critical, McEnroe's often is, such as when he questions whether he made the right calls as a father (he and second wife, the singer Patty Smyth, have six children between them), and describes the difficulties that arose from his father also being his manager.

It covers a lot of interesting territory as McEnroe talks about his life and career: his relationship with his equally perfectionist father, his disastrous marriage to actress Tatum O'Neal, his rock 'n' roll years with his best buddy, the gifted tennis player and Studio 54 habitué Vitas Gerulaitis, and his fractious relationship with the All England Club, where he won the singles title (much to its members' dismay, no doubt) three times.

McEnroe's sharp wit comes to the fore as he describes the last two subjects; about enjoying smoking marijuana with Gerulaitis, he says: “People today use performance-enhancing drugs. We used performance-detracting drugs.” And he's deliciously sarcastic about annoying the All England stuffed shirts who threatened he would not be made a member if he didn't go to the Champions Ball and, as is tradition, twirl that year's women's champion, Martina Navratilova, around the floor. “Big fucking deal!” he says, the thought still amusing him a few decades on.

Much of the same territory has been covered in McEnroe's two autobiographies, the 2011 documentary Fire & Ice and the 2017 feature film Borg vs McEnroe, as well as the wonderfully quirky 2019 documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, yet many of the contributors here do enlighten us – his children and wife in particular, the latter casually throwing in the suggestion that McEnroe may be on the spectrum (although this isn't explored).

Douglas also doesn't explore the how or why McEnroe went from enfant terrible to éminence grise in the sport, and noticeable by their absence are O'Neal and former player Jimmy Connors, McEnroe's nemesis and a man who courted unpopularity with his own on-court antics. But then that would be a whole different film.

McEnroe's sharp wit comes to the fore


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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