The John McEnroe Showtime documentary, McEnroe, sees the tennis great open up about his career and finally tell his side of the story.
Four years ago saw the release of an archival documentary about the tennis great. This time around, he appears in a tell-all documentary where he opens up about his career.
He acknowledges that he did a shitty job at being one of the greatest players on the court. His attitude shows through during the opening montage.
London 1977: He makes it into the Wimbledon semifinals. Here is this 18-year-old kid who had to play in qualifying competition just to make it this far. Advancing to the semifinals put him in the same league as some of the greats.
The thing about him is that he comes from a perfectionist family. And so, it’s not just having the drive within him to succeed but it also means being angry at yourself when you don’t This really starts to explain his behavior on the court. Over the years, he would start to climb up the rankings. Brothers Patrick and Mark McEnroe offer some background on what it meant to grow up in their family. If you don’t pay attention closely, you might not realize which one is talking between the brothers.
John’s wife, Patty Smyth, says that he might be on the spectrum. It might explain why he sees the court in the way he does. He grew up playing chess and this could also play into the line of thinking. Later on the film, Patty says that “I married a bad boy who turned out to be a really good man.”
It wouldn’t be a tennis doc without other players chiming in. Billie Jean King and Bjorn Borg among the tennis players providing commentary. Of course, you could not make this film without discussing the Borg vs. McEnroe matchup. It even got turned into a biopic a few years ago. As Borg comments, he became a different person in the eyes of the media following this matchup. But together, the two became friends and were more than just rivals on the court.
“It was really stupid,” McEnroe says of the “asshole” comment. His comments on the court brought shame to the sport and he was also threatened with a suspension.
McEnroe is “hypersensitive” to everything but “especially on the tennis court.” This is never more true than what happened in Paris 1984. He says that whenever he has nightmares, it’s usually because of what happened. McEnroe gives us a play by play of the events.
While it’s mostly a tennis doc, we don’t even get to his family life at home until after an hour into the film–his first marriage was to Tatum O’Neal. While their kids briefly participate in the film, Tatum does not. John reveals that by being around Patty, he feels like he can be himself. He got a second chance in the mid-90s after his divorce. The final 45 minutes also touches on the drug use the further the doc takes us into the 1980s. It also dives into the relationship with his father during the latter part of his father’s life. His died dad in early 2017 and his mother would follow six months later after a cancer diagnosis.
Overall, this is a film that’s heavy on archival footage but a lot of it is up against voiceovers from interview subjects and the tennis great himself. A lot of docs have a way of turning into a Wikipedia page but this isn’t one of them. Aside from that, there are moments where they resort to animation as a way to depict his moves around the court.
McEnroe is an insightful sports doc and while it doesn’t break any ground in the genre, fans will get to know more about him.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Barney Douglas
FEATURING: John McEnroe, Patty Smyth-McEnroe, Mark McEnroe, Patrick McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Bjorn Borg, Peter Fleming, Keith Richards, Chrissie Hynde, Phil Knight, Peter Fleming, James “Jimbo” Malhane
McEnroe holds its world premiere during the 2022 Tribeca Festival in the Movies Plus program. Showtime will start streaming McEnroe on September 2, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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