Tribeca 2022: McEnroe

Directed by: Barney Douglas
Distributed by: Showtime Films

Written by Taylor Baker


“McEnroe” is largely what its title suggests, a look at the performance, antics, and legend of John McEnroe in his own words. With some brief asides by his children, brother, wife, Billie Jean King, and a handful of other notable names. The documentary is sturdily built on the historical footage of McEnroe on the courts with some shifts to still images implicating his nightlife experiences and appearances on talk shows as he erupted as one of the most dynamic athletes of his era. As fascinating as he is to look at for what he does and was on the court, those asides to the off-court life are largely uninformative and unappealing. Giving the impression of shoehorning in material based on an outline rather than reflective of the material they’re gathering through interviews day in and day out.

Odd sequences like current-day John McEnroe answering a call in a public phone booth at night while a talking head talks about John and throw away shots of him walking in the city show an underlying formulaic approach from the top down. The reason that “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” was as successful as it was is its craftsmanship and unconventionality. Focused on what John did and the science of it, “McEnroe” instead plays like a television special recapping one of the greatest tennis pros of the 80s but missing the artistry and boldness that McEnroe himself demonstrated. There are a handful of interview sequences with John’s father that are fascinating and provide a level of insight into the rigidity that John grew up with and had as his manager for a long period of time. While I welcome this opportunity to hear John speak at length about himself, his headspace, and his career the film itself lacks the nuance and character of its subject.

“McEnroe” Trailer

“McEnroe” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of Tribeca Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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