Tennis, Anyone...?

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 11/16/05 08:36:45

"Uplifting directorial debut by Donal Logue"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

This film holds a lovely story and explores a wide range of emotional terrain that never feels disingenuous. At times the emotional intensity that flows from scene to scene can feel disjointed but fortunately it doesn't flow like a series of scene studies. This an actor's film and the emphasis on performance, which is part of the plot as well, sometimes takes precedence over but never overshadows the development of the characters in this character-driven film.

Danny (Donal Logue) meets Gary (Kirk Fox) as actors in a film. Danny’s career is obviously going somewhere and Kirk at least has a dream on which to hold. Fortunately for Kirk he doesn’t hold on too tight and that lets him avoid a life of dissapointment an defeat. While they are no match on the set, they are a terrific together on the tennis court. Danny discovers that Kirk was a touring pro tennis player to which Danny basically replies, “Let’s work with that.” Their friendship blooms around tennis games which intersect with Hollywood at charity games and house parties. Danny’s much wealthier and more famous ally, Johnnie Green, played by Steven Isaacs who also played the senior Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, becomes his perfect enemy foil. While Danny and Kirk may not be able to compete with Johnnie in the pages of Vanity Fair, they can on the court and eventually, as happens to all villains, he takes a very satisfying, very nasty stage dive. All along the way, Danny and Gary friendship becomes more important to each other as they deal with the unpleasant difficulties a life as a film and television actor can create for oneself such as dealing with rejection, overblown egos, shallowness, emotional manipulation and the pressures of carrying a whole company on your face, however inconsequential in the grand scheme of things that can seem.

Tennis Anyone is Logue’s directorial debut. Co-written with Fox, the script is well crafted and while the film makes use of some tried and true clichés in the area of villainy and finding the purpose of one’s soul it doesn’t make the film any less unsophisticated. The characters are drawn with enough angles to make them interesting and to allow them to develop. It is obvious that Fox and Logue put a lot of care into where they took the story and how they developed the main character’s arc within the arc of the plot.

While the film is about actors pressing up against the limits of their lives, the actors are pressing up against the limits of the craft. I kept trying to see Malfoy in Isaacs’ Johnnie but couldn’t. Paul Rudd shows up briefly as porn star which felt to me more like Paul Rudd showing up and having fun with a character in a skit where we are supposed to understand that he is drawing a ridiculous character. That was one of the inconsistent scenes in the film as a whole, but on it’s own, was fun to watch.

The most remarkable element in the whole film is the philosophy of “Ria.” Ria, which is the name of the production company Logue used to make this film, is “Air” spelled backwards. Gary’s father was known around Venice Beach as a guy who survived a life-threatening illness and adopted a new attitude because of it. He spent the rest of his life making walking sticks and walking along the beach and transmitting a spiritual sensibility to everyone he met by raising his hands above his head and saying “Ria” like a big cosmic “YES!” During the film whenever anyone actually repeated this gesture, I actually felt like the character or the actor or both were communicating this essential affirmation that all is good and they are alive with joy. It’s all in the delivery, I’m sure. It is totally made up but there is an authentic feeling to it.

The idea of it is not new, but this packaging is innovative and effective. Gary explains that his father felt he had discovered something important and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. In the film, Gary’s father has recently died and the community poured out it’s support to his mother. “I’ve never met most of these people,” she says, as if she is discovering anew how remarkable a man her husband was. I liked that Logue and Fox made Gary’s dad an actual character and a force in the movement in the plot, perhaps the most important character. The whole “recent death of my father” could have been used just to draw negative space around Gary’s emotional life instead. Instead I found myself responding to an absent figure that lived, as dead people do, in the memory of others.

Logue and Fox have created a poignent, character driven "buddy" film set against the meat grinder of the film and television industry. Hollywood becomes a Cthulhu-like many-tentacled character in this film shaping the choices and meaningful events of their lives. In the midst of what could be a downward spiral in a sea of crushed spirits, broken dreams and impossible expectations, Danny and Gary find a spiritual and emotional truth that allows them to rise above the pettiness and have a real, human relationship and an authentic private life while they stumble along their paths where desire and reality often conflict.

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