- 1h 26min
After being fired from the affluent country club for bad behavior, a former tennis star takes a job at a public racquet club where he leads a ragtag group of oddball pros to a showdown again... Read allAfter being fired from the affluent country club for bad behavior, a former tennis star takes a job at a public racquet club where he leads a ragtag group of oddball pros to a showdown against a rival team of his former co-workers.After being fired from the affluent country club for bad behavior, a former tennis star takes a job at a public racquet club where he leads a ragtag group of oddball pros to a showdown against a rival team of his former co-workers.
I'm not counting rise-and-fall of the athlete films, like Everybody's All American, which are great films but belong in their own sub-genre. Those films start on a high spirited note and end with the somber fade of the spotlight with old-age looming. But the dramatic post-prime film typically follows the opposite course, with a build up to the come-back, whether physical or emotional.
When viewed in those terms, 2nd Serve provides something of an atypical approach. It takes the second half of the rise-and-fall film... the decline, and merges it with an adjusting to post-prime-of-life comedy where we see the main character, Owen Match, regain some of his self-esteem, while developing emotional connections to a single mom and her son, both of whom are on different orbits of the same tennis universe that Owen is navigating.
And there is much in the film about the tennis universe. The lecherous and egotistical nature of the jet-setting pro tour player. The grind of coaching the grab bag of amateurs, from hoe's to hacks to head-gamers. There are diversions into the pressures put on young players. On the hopes of the youth coach who has a real contender, and the relationship between the coach and their young players. So much so that I would say this film offers the best glimpse any film has yet to show of the coach - youth player - prime player - coach athlete life-cycle. And yet it's definitely not a rehash of the The Bad New Bears middle-finger to the system comedy.
It's an off-market flim about a sport with a shrinking market share without big-name star drawing power. if it had been show with Liev Schreiber as leading man and a $5 million budget instead of a $500,000 one, it would be outshining the likes of Chuck by miles, since despite tennis's decline, it is still far more relevant to modern audiences than boxing. From a critical standpoint, the lead acting in 2nd serve is pretty solid. The supporting cast does it's job of putting a few yuk's in there. There is an unmistakable sense that the supporting characters were conceived along the lines of Caddyshack. In fact, early marketing releases for the film read like a locker-room sex romp was planned. It's a good thing those scenes were left on the cutting room floor, although the poster art apparently retained the phallic imagery which doesn't do the film justice. Still, we have to wonder if this film could be made today with what has become near fanaticism over #MeToo and the stands being taken on sexual harassment (it's mentioned that one of the reasons Owen has to work at the Derby Club is having sex with his tennis students. The first thing he does at his new job is hit on the club manager. I think, pedigree of the club aside, not even the grungiest city-run club is going to risk a sexual harassment lawsuit today by employing him.)
One critic has specifically taken the film to task for the tennis play not being realistic. To some extent this is true -- you are not going to see anythant that even remotely looks like prime-time ATP / WTA tennis on the courts in this film. However, to people who actually spend time hanging around amateur tennis clubs, the level of play portrayed is consistent with what you see in real life. There is a massive variance in skill levels when you look at a Jr. USTA championship caliber player and a high-school regional champion. While when we finally see Owen face off on the court in the final match, his tennis isn't really great, that fact fits the movie's theme, that he's not a player anymore but needs to step into the role of mentor and coach. Not philandering tennis instructor, but role-model coach like his own coach, despite his ambivalence about his own experience being coached.
Overall I recommend this film for not just tennis people, but also anyone who has looked back at the athletic identity of their younger self and thought, "Does it count for anything good in the weight and measure of the person I see in the mirror?"
- Mar 24, 2018