Tennis, Anyone? in Minneapolis! (with Donal Logue)

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Hilary the Touched
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Tennis, Anyone? in Minneapolis! (with Donal Logue)

Post by Hilary the Touched » Thu Oct 20, 2005 10:45 pm

Breaking out of the movie studio mold
Colin Covert, Star Tribune

Last update: October 20, 2005 at 2:50 PM

The annual SMMASH Film Festival, celebrating Strictly Midwest Movies And Short Hits, treats its own eligibility requirements rather cavalierly. The seven-day, 43-film event kicks off today, and its offerings are supposed to come from creators with longtime roots in the heartland. That isn't strictly the case with some of this year's crop.

For a number of the films you'd have to dig deep into the crew and cast to find anyone reared in the Midwest. Canada-born, California-bred actor-director Donal Logue doesn't have significant ties to flyover country. Nor does the delightful French character actor Domonique Pinon ("The City of Lost Children,"Amelie,"A Very Long Engagement"). But if a bit of leniency brings us some delightful films, what's the harm?

Logue, the star of TV's "Grounded for Life," will attend tonight's 7 o'clock opening film at the Excelsior Dock Cinema 3, the festival's home base. Since his memorable debut as a sweaty, chatterbox cabdriver in MTV promos, he's been moving into ever more significant roles. Now he's making his starring/directing/co-writing debut with "Tennis, Anyone?" a melancholy and humane comedy in the vein of "Sideways."

Logue is accompanying his film on the festival circuit, which he compares to medieval players taking their "Everyman" production from village to village. Audiences responded not just to the comedy -- "which is a slam dunk," he said -- but to the film's deeper themes of searching for purpose in a life that seems to be an endless parade of distractions.

Logue plays Danny, a struggling actor who lands a leading role in a sitcom, then enters a horrendous midlife crisis as his private and professional lives collapse. Although most of those troubles are of his own making, Danny remains someone you identify with and care about.

He rediscovers his balance on the tennis court, where a friend who approaches the game like a Zen master coaches him on the cosmic significance of a smooth backhand. In the finale, Danny faces his insecurities in a doubles duel with his Mephistophelean showbiz mentor, Johnny Green, a preening backstabber played with slimy precision by Jason Isaacs ("Peter Pan").

The ending is among the film's few false steps, with sports-movie uplift when a mordant finale would feel truer. Mostly, though, "Tennis, Anyone?" deftly walks the tightrope between uproariously sad and tragically funny.

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