Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tribeca ’22: McEnroe

If you were around in the early 1980s, you might remember how John McEnroe and Tatum O’Neal were like J-Lo and A-Rod, but with exponentially more paparazzi interest. Their marriage didn’t last, but he always maintained a relationship with tennis. The notoriously outspoken athlete is profiled in Barney Douglas’s documentary McEnroe, which screens during the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

Yep, McEnroe used to argue calls on the court from time to time. He addresses his famous outbursts quite frankly in the doc. He is not proud of them, but he explains the issues he was experiencing at the time. He also rarely let them influence the next point.

McEnroe reminds us just how long he has been in the public eye. Children of the 1980s who only vaguely remember the media circus surrounding his marriage to O’Neal will find Douglas’s coverage eye-opening. Fortunately, he also handles the tennis stuff well too. Even if you followed his career at the time, or if you’ve seen Janus Metz’s thoroughly entertaining Borg vs.McEnroe, you will probably get caught up in the drama of McEnroe’s Wimbledon battles with Bjorn Borg.

In a bit of a score, McEnroe’s great rival-turned-friend appears on camera to discuss their comradeship, despite largely retiring from the tennis world and public life. O’Neal is absent, but the rest of his family discusses McEnroe, with pretty much the same candor he brings to the film. (We even see his current wife, Patty Smythe performing on
American Bandstand, which is another blast from the 1980’s past.)

brings back a lot of sports memories and nostalgia. The only halfway questionable element is Douglas’s decision to stage noir-ish scenes of his subject walking through the Long Island and Lower Manhattan neighborhoods from his past, during the after hours, at the peak of pandemic closures. It is somewhat visually interesting, but conspicuously staged-looking.

The important point is McEnroe really opens up and dishes on himself. Regardless whether you are a tennis fan, this is a highly watchable, impressively balanced documentary. Recommended for general audiences,
McEnroe screens again tomorrow (6/17), as part of this year’s Tribeca.