New Written Review from Mike Crowley on You’ll Probably Agree: ‘McEnroe’ Struggles To Reach Greatness

“Greatness” is a term that’s overused in every sports documentary. It’s a word splattered on endless Gatorade commercials and Nike ads. Greatness implies the watcher to give 100% and nothing less. You’re just another lazy loser if you don’t give it your all. To achieve greatness, you must not only win. You have to humiliate your opponent. Greatness is the grind culture mentality that is only great for ruining many personal lives—teaching the individual to value competition over kindness. 

John McEnroe is no stranger to conflict. Before John walked on the scene, tennis was a genteel game based on good behavior. Leave it up to an obnoxious American to turn class into trash. Like Nascar, most people don’t care about the race. They want to see an accident happen. But at the same time, they don’t want to see the driver hurt. We’re socially hypocritical that way.

As someone who knows little about John McEnroe, I hoped this film would make me get to understand him better. In the mildest of ways, it does but fails to dig deep into John’s psychosis like HBO’s phenomenal Tiger did. I knew what this movie would be, and that’s a film containing loads of footage of Mr. McEnroe having temper tantrums on the court.

I was more than correct in that assumption. Like watching any World Star fight or Russian Dash Cam video, the appeal of observing real-life confrontation gets old pretty fast. Aside from John acting like a man-child, what else is there to him? What’s the theme of this story? Is it to tell us a cautionary tale about anger management? Is it about sports’ winning mentality destroying the lives of the athletes they prop on pedestals? In McEnroe’s opening moments, John speaks about his temper ruining his life. Yet I was questioning how much he lost by the movie’s end.

Aside from his first divorce and future championship failures, John McEnroe doesn’t seem to be affected much in the film. Although his career could have flourished if it weren’t for his rage, John has enough money to keep him in a mansion until the end of his days. Saying that your life is ruined because you lost your edge comes across like crying over spilled milk.

McEnroe is a classic tale of daddy issues that has difficulty balancing a narrative between the court and home. I’d like to see more about the daddy drama. If I’m using the slang term daddy issues, it’s because the film treats the subject as such. The dimensionality of an overpowering neglectful yet caring father acts as more of a footnote than a driving force to the narrative. Structurally, the film shows 80% of John lashing out and 20% of his family issues. Despite the interviews with John’s children and wife and the brief glimpse of John’s old man, (insulting the director) so much of the narrative lacks any new context I could have already assumed revolving around why John McEnroe is the way he is. 

Biopics and documentaries about famous figures are a slippery slope. The audience knows there’s more to a story than what’s publically perceived. Some are fascinating to watch. For example, the Oscar-winning 2016 documentary O.J.: Made in America provides the perfect blend between sensation and intimacy to draw audiences into the protagonist’s head. 

If there is greatness in the film, it’s in the aesthetics. The precise usage of light from cinematographer Lucas Tucknott magnificently resembles the cold, lost soul of John McEnroe. From the illumination on a store window television glowing on John to the minimally yet meticulously lit streets is gorgeous for a documentary. The color temperature is cool despite John being hot-tempered. The choice of a blue-white balance resembles the isolation and regret John reflects on. The cameras filming John during his interview are distant and completely off-center, matching his racing mind. 

To compliment John’s ferocity are Steve Williams’ editing and Felix White’s score. During John’s routine meltdowns, the score rumbles with the underpinning of terror as the film cuts with laser precision to the soundtrack, emphasizing McEnroe’s mental instability.  Director Barney Douglas’ attempts to disturb the audience with scenes of John making a mockery out of tennis felt more funny than disturbing despite the editor’s attempts at making me feel uncomfortable.. An American calling a well-spoken British referee an a*****e while tighty whitey tennis gear doesn’t intimidate me the way a boxing match, UFC fight, Rugby, or Football would. 

For all the impressive work placed on the production, McEnroe approaches its nuance haphazardly. What could be a fascinating tale of what triggers John McEnroe’s toxic masculinity is settled for a movie that shows John McEnroe fans a best of tape throughout the athlete’s career. If you’re a John McEnroe fan, you’ll probably love this movie. If you’re a casual like me, you’ll probably agree to disagree with me.

McEnroe is available for streaming on September 2, 2022

Do you agree with my rating? The movie is coming out

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