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Recommended: McEnroe on Showtime

The controversial tennis star gets a perceptive and emotionally affecting doc about his life.
  • John McEnroe celebrates his victory at The Championships 1981. (Photo: Michael Cole/AELTC/Showtime).
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    McEnroe | Showtime
    Sports Documentary Film (1 hour 45 minutes) | TV-MA

    What's McEnroe About?

    Tennis champ John McEnroe reflects on his controversial career and his drastically different approach to life in his later years. 

    Who's involved?

    • John McEnroe is onscreen for almost the entire running time of the film, whether it be via archival footage, home movies, or interviews and b-roll shot for this film.
    • McEnroe's family, including his current wife Patty Smyth and several of his children, make memorable contributions as well, particularly as they reflect on what it's been like to live with a formerly famous hothead who's changed with age.
    • Björn Borg, one of McEnroe's great rivals on the court, gives a thoughtful account of their time in the spotlght and their friendship out of it.
    • Other contemporaries like tennis star Billie Jean King and rockers Chrissie Hynde and Keith Richards also weigh in.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Sports documentaries are nothing new, but following the phenomenal success of The Last Dance, the recent trend seems to be multiple-episode sports docuseries. This, of course, is all fine and good if you're willing to invest 7-10 hours in shows like Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers and The Captain . For the rest of us, happily there are still films like McEnroe, which manages to provide plenty of substance in a more manageable runtime.

    The movie's point of view is clear in the opening moments, when we hear McEnroe say he was never happy as the world's greatest tennis player. That leads to shots of him in the present, white-haired and rail thin, wandering the streets of New York in the middle of the night. Even as it shows highlights of his greatest matches and footage of his notorious outbursts, the movie keeps coming back to these moody, lonely scenes.

    Far from your standard "celebrate the champion" documentary, this approach allows writer-director Barney Douglas to get at something deeper about how a wild young man became more mournful and more grateful in his older age. We see McEnroe laughing with family, and we also hear his kids and Patty Smyth, his rock star wife, talk about the challenges of seeing him through addiction, self-loathing, and rage. We hear him talk about his father with emotions that still seem raw, and we hear him describe his own attempts to be a better dad.

    Along the way, we also get an elegant description of how this type of living — moving from furious loneliness to a calm sense of belonging —can mirror the trajectory of a professional tennis player. This is where Björn Borg comes in, sitting on a boat dock and soundling like a sports philosopher as he reflects on what a person gives up when they stop trying to be the best in the world.

    It's quite a feat to pack all this into an hour and forty-five minutes, but the brevity and focus only heighten the McEnroe's impact. It's shorter than many tennis matches, but it leaves a lasting impression.

    Pairs well with

    • Welcome to Wrexham, FX's charming docuseries about two A-list actors who buy a British football club. (Stream on Hulu. Read our review.)
    • Battle of the Sexes, about Billie Jean King's historic match against Bobby Riggs, featuring a sensational performance from Emma Stone as King. (Available to purchase.)
    • The Bee Gees: How Can You Men a Broken Heart, HBO's similarly wistful doc about the rise of the Bee Gees and Barry Gibb's experience as the last surviving member. (Read our review.)

  • McEnroe
    Airs on Showtime Sunday September 4 at 8:00 PM ET. Available to subscribers on streaming and VOD beginning Friday September 2.
    Starring: John McEnroe, Patrick McEnroe, Patty Smyth, Chrissie Hynde, and Keith Richards.
    Directed by: Barney Douglas.

    TOPICS: McEnroe, Showtime, Barney Douglas, Chrissie Hynde, John McEnroe, Keith Richards, Patrick McEnroe, Patty Smyth