Reese Witherspoon movie-the other view on the script (anti-view)
Now, read this view..and tell me which one do you agree with!
She might be at the top of her Hollywood game, but can her presence save this bad script? Darwin doesn't think so.
Friday, October 4, 2002
Now that Reese Witherspoon is one cute-and-lackluster hit from being the next Julia Roberts, the so-called “Sweetheart of America,” and she’ll be turning her back on the great work she’s done in movies like ELECTION for bubble-gum hooey that appeals to mass-market program grids, it seems the perfect time to talk about one of her upcoming projects, which proves the old Reese will be erased like a drawing in the sand.
I have to admit something. I love women’s tennis. For years now it’s been more exciting than men’s. It started for me with the dominating year Martina Hingis had in 1997. And since then, we’ve seen the rise of Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Dokic, Justine Henin, the resurgence of Jennifer Capriati and, of course, the Williams sisters. Women’s tennis has never been more popular or electric. Fertile material for a movie, to be sure. Which is what makes Bruce Miller’s UNTITLED TENNIS MOVIE such a crushing disappointment.
UNTITLED TENNIS MOVIE, which was written specifically for Reese, tells the tales of Kate Maguire and Miranda Rhodes. Kate is an up-and-coming player, called the “little assassin,” with anger issues. During the U.S. Open she questions a bad call, gets rebuked, and then becomes so enraged she throws her racket at the chair judge. The stunt costs her the match and her career is over. Miranda is...well...she’s Anna Kournikova with a different name (with a little Britney Spears thrown in). She is supermodel-beautiful, naturally talented, rolling in endorsement dollars, but disinterested when it actually comes to the sport.
A scandal breaks out when a home video of Miranda and her married trainer having sex hits the Internet. Miranda loses her sponsors and sulks the days away. Kate is now wasting her time teaching little kids to hit tennis balls at a country club. Her old trainer, stud-boy Joe (who she of course was in love with), calls upon Kate to save the day and help him train Miranda. She initially says no, but comes around for no particular reason and agrees to. She doesn’t want to train Miranda, however; she wants to play with her -- as a doubles team. After much blah-blah, Miranda allows it, they bicker, then become friends, then have success as a team, and -- poof! -- Miranda runs away. They enter the U.S. Open as single players, battling each other in the “white-knuckle suspense finale.”
I came back to one word reading this script: cliche. Cliche, cliche, cliche.
First off, Miller doesn’t know jack about women’s tennis. On page four he has someone say that tennis is known as a sport of the rich. Really? Even today -- in the world of the Williams sisters? I don’t think so. The sisters have opened that door, and showed that anyone with talent can become a superstar. Someone from Kate’s impoverished background wouldn’t exactly be newsworthy anymore. Then two pages later Miller writes “This is women’s tennis and it’s not for wimps.” Which shows you he’s getting it all wrong. Where has he been? Women’s tennis is cool now. He doesn’t have to convince us of that; he has to keep up with it -- and he can’t.
Kate’s slapdash backstory is that she was a poor kid who “played with a racket she found in the trash” (yes, that’s a direct quote) and, while battling the “trailer-trash” taunts, fought her way to the top (only to lose it all because of her rage). Ho-hum. Could we have something a little more cliche, maybe? The poor girl who makes good? It probably all wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t painted in broad strokes. We’re told Kate is angry and was poor, so her every line of dialogue or action highlights these two points. Her whip-quick decision to help Miranda is made by looking at her tennis trophies and remembering how destitute she was and how fun tennis could be. Her anger is like something out of an Adam Sandler movie, where she’ll suddenly lose it, chase someone down, and beat them to death.
The Miranda character cuts so close to Anna Kournikova that I think she has a libel suit if she wants one.
Where Miller stumbles is in the idea that Miranda can win but doesn’t want to. The idea makes no sense. If she liked nothing more than posing for the cameras, why doesn’t she just become a model? If they only love her for her face, and not her tennis skills, how would it affect her income? It wouldn’t. Miller only has this here to create a disparity between Kate (real athlete) and Miranda (not a real athlete till Kate shows her what that is). Any businessman (even a dumb one) could tell you that if she’s getting this kind of dough without doing good, if she did rise to the top she’d make even more money because she would have legitimacy. This character is really a traducing of Kournikova, and it couldn’t be more wrong about her not wanting to win. She would like nothing more than to gain other players’ respect, because, for once, people would have something else to say besides “she’s never won a tournament.”
The funniest and most unaware moment -- the moment when you know Miller has no idea what he’s doing -- is when he shows Serena Williams watching Miranda and scoffing, “I beat her three times. How come I’m not getting that endorsement?” Meanwhile, her sister, Venus, signed the biggest contract ever for a female player -- forty million dollars from Reebok. The Williams sisters are so popular here in the U.S. they’re practically a franchise. Kournikova may be hugely popular because she’s pretty, but she hasn’t cornered the market in sponsors.
UNTITLED TENNIS MOVIE is almost religiously stupid. And it builds each convention to a new height, leapfrogging cliches. Kate and Joe take Miranda to his little training camp. Kate, who is jaded, starts to realize how “rough” of a life young female tennis players lead. After Miranda and Kate cat-fight and fail to play as a team, Kate takes all the kids out for dancing and beer at the beach and -- hey, look at this -- all the girls who were total bitches to each other...why, they get along now! And Miranda has caught the bug, too: she listens to advice, she cleans up her game, and she’s a team player. Bruce Miller has found the key to world peace! All you need to do is bring the combatants to a beach, play some music, and pass out beers. And everyone will get along after that!
I mean, could Miller not see how simple and obtuse that was? It’s laughable. But then again, everything is wrong in this script. Miranda’s big scandal involved her fellating a banana. Her sponsors dump her and her fans turn on her. But who are we kidding here? She’d be twice as big if this happened. The male fans would go absolutely bat-crap and their fantasies (now with helpful visual conformation) would soar into the stratosphere. Would the world be that shocked by a nineteen year old having sex? Hardly. Would sponsors really dump her? I doubt it. Marv Albert bit up a woman’s back and dressed in women’s clothing (not to mention he got beat up by a woman) and he got his job back and no one talks about it anymore. Remember when Eddie Murphy got picked up sucking the toes of a transsexual hooker? Or what about Hugh Grant and his hooker? The public accepts people as human. And while Leno would crack stupid jokes for a week and people in the stadiums would yell a few choice words, life would go on and that’s it. Miller sets it as the end of the world. And in the list of massive, idiotic cheats, has Joe say “(the sponsorship money) is almost all gone.” Really? So what’s he saying? That she used up ten million dollars in two months? What was she doing? Wiping her butt with thousand-dollar bills?
The script is structurally unsound. It hops here and there with no real tissue tying it together. There’s no bridge to connect Kate and Miranda going from enemies to friends. Miller pins it all on that blasted beach trip. Kate, who is there to get Miranda back on her feet, never has one conversation with her. Not one. I can’t think of a better example of how sloppy this script is. Instead of actually creating interesting, layered characters, the writer annoyingly and unprofessionally lists lengthy backstories in the text. With such humdingers as “(She realized) as long as she was driven by anger she’d never win.” Wow, did I mention “cliche” anywhere around here?
The biggest lapse in judgement was to center the whole script on humanizing Miranda, making us like her, and then scooting her off in the end and making her the villain. The bulk of the script is made up of Miranda training, getting her life back together, and becoming a nice gal (we sympathize with her). At the end of the story she turns her back on that and goes solo. So we’re now supposed to root against the person the script set up as the person to root for! It’s pure amateur hour. It’s because Reese Witherspoon (Kate) is the star, and there has to be some commonplace showdown in the end between the two women.
The characters and motivations in this script are just so shallow and dull. Kate is an anger- management case who never reveals anything deeper or what even drives her anger. Miranda is pure high-school prom-queen dodo brain. Joe is a slimy huckster. You absolutely like no one here. It’s not helped by the smarmy dialogue, which is made up exclusively of one-liners. And while a few of them might thunk home for a laugh, it’s ultimately distancing and depthless.
The stupidly inevitable romance between Kate and Joe is handled bizarrely. We know it’s going to happen -- Kate exposes her hurt-lost-damaged love for Joe within five pages -- but we don’t get any type of buildup till they finally say “let’s do it.” They don’t go from squabbling to liking each other to letting their guard down. They fight for a while, and when the author feels it’s time for it -- they have some sex. Just like that. Their romance, like everything else in this script, is consistent in its inconsistency.
The underlining point to this script seems to be that people should just have fun when they play sports. To italicize this point we are repeatedly shown how obsessed with tennis the young girls are and how their little hands get bruised and how they miss out on beer and dancing and the beach. Miller makes tennis-training look like a concentration camp. He’s missing his own point: some of these kids have such a love for the game that missing out on beers with the fellas is just fine for them. This is what they like, where they want to be, and their ambition to make the pros isn’t sick or distressing, but downright noble. They want to take what they love and make a career of it. So what’s wrong with that? Miller’s problem is that he sees everything as black and white. The characters can only hate each other or love each other. The kids can only be miserable and bitchy or pals for life. Professional tennis can either be a fun, challenging sport or a hellhole where you are abused by other players.
The most unintentionally hilarious moment in the script is when Kate finds out Miranda is leaving their doubles team to head back to singles. (She gets to the finals in one doubles match and the sponsors come roaring back, even though the fans still call her a whore. But this is just another example of nothing having a buildup or making sense in the script.) Kate is furious and takes off. Joe chases her down and as they are about to have a fight -- look out! -- one of the cute little girls we saw at the camp has torn up her ankle! The doctor solemnly tells them that she’ll be at forty percent in a few weeks -- she’ll be able to walk. The girl who was playing with her at the time is hysterical with self-loathing. She was happy, she says, when she saw the girl go down. “I’m a monster!” she wails. Oy, veh!
The “battle royal” finale at the U.S. Open is extraordinary in its quest to out-cliche the most cliched movies of all time. First we’re told Kate was only angry because she didn’t have stud-boy Joe nailing her in closets. And then we’re presented with this:
Miranda hits a shot that lands inside the line. It’s called out. Being the super-super-nice, I-truly-appreciate-the-game-and-I’m-gonna-teach-a-lesson-type of person she is, Kate argues the call -- against herself. When it’s not reversed, Kate deliberately boots the next point. This so inspires the crowd, who nicknamed her “bitch,” that they tear up their “BITCH” placards and T-shirts and cheer her on! It’s just too bad we’re not supposed to find all this funny.
I found the UNTITLED TENNIS MOVIE to be categorically awful. I can’t support a single line of it. And it’s all the more terrible for wasting such great material. Women’s tennis is hot and it’s galvanizing. It’s one of the most exciting sports around right now. And since there haven’t been many tennis movies, it’s open for something great. But rather than siphon the real-life energy, Bruce Miller has re-created all those rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-and-then-back- to-riches ROCKY wannabes and written a wooden, ignorant, blind script that gets everything wrong and nothing right.
The characters are broad and soulless, the story jejune and hackneyed, the structure malformed.
I just keep coming back to one word: cliche. And here’s a few more: very, very bad.
-- Darwin Mayflower