As a huge tennis fan, It should be obvious that this viewer was inclined to check out this new documentary covering the career of John McEnroe. Even if McEnroe’s achievements and his cult of personality feel like they have been thoroughly covered across various projects in both drama and documentary. What surprised this onlooker was that the new firm had a relatively wide theatrical release and was even playing in some multiplex venues. Granted it will be gone from most of those after a week. Even if The subject is still one of the most well-known figures in tennis on paper the new piece looks like something one might see appear at a film festival before appearing as a reliable schedule filler in between the action on various live sports channels. This may be its fate in the US. The opening logos do confirm that it’s a co-production with Showtime. That said after watching it’s not hard to imagine why the UK arm of Universal along with documentary specialists Dogwoof thought this might play well to a broad audience. It’s the kind of efficient, engaging and effective career walkthrough That benefits hugely from the fact that McEnroe himself is an engrossing presence regardless of your thoughts on his sport. The most intriguing and admirable yet odd element of the film is its framing device. Occasionally the constructed career narrative and talking head interviews with all the figures One would expect to see Will cut to a reoccurring framing device. Contemporary McEnroe walks around the streets of modern New York City throughout a single night as if he is in some variety of Neo-Noir project. These might not work for every viewer but give the proceeding a commendable big screen-worthy element. This enables McEnroe as a fully formed piece to differentiate itself From the standard formula for this style of sports retrospective to a certain extent.
The full package is supremely watchable but nothing particularly new even for casual tennis fans. It’s like watching someone do a mid-tier episode of “Tennis Relived” on themselves. Notably, without The Tennis Podcast’s occasionally frustrating ability inorganically insert a “how do we make this about inequality?” angle Even in the stories and careers where that is less relevant. In other words, McEnroe is the exact sort of mainstream adjacent documentary that exhibiters love to put in front of a mainstream audience of both casual and established fans of the subject matter. This is perfectly fine. Ultimately there is a level of comfort in watching a story one knows be solidly told through the medium of documentary. Rather this than filmmakers trying to push the boat out and bungling the execution of a topic that could have been fascinating.
McEnroe is a solid documentary that doesn’t break any new ground in terms of covering a very well-established career within the sport. That said the piece is the kind of efficient and engaging career walkthrough that has the potential to play to a wider audience. It’s somewhat wild to this fan that three tennis feature films have appeared in various places over the last 18 months. Netflix cameras have been following both professional tours this season. One also has continuing escapades and modern stories of players like Nick Kyrios, Bernard Tomic and Benoit Paire. These careers read at times like the script from a pre-constructed reality TV show. There will be plenty more tennis adjacent media in the pipeline. Even outside of the traditional pre and post-Wimbledon bubble.