Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

Battle of the Sexes, 2017

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

 

In 1973 there was a game of tennis that had the world watching. A game of tennis between a man, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), and a woman, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)), dubbed by the press as the Battle of the Sexes: this film tells the story leading up to that game. Bobby Riggs, an ageing self-proclaimed misogynist, desires the game as a way of aiding his gambling addiction and to remain in the public figure, and Billie Jean King, a sexually-confused late-20’s player at the top of her game, eventually accepts the match as her way of promoting female sports and as part of her bid for equality for all.

This film is beautiful. Steve Carell and Emma Stone capture their characters brilliantly, and, amazingly, their likeness to their real-life counterparts is perhaps one of the best I’ve seen in based-on-a-true-event film. Both have been nominated for an Acadamy Award, with Emma winning hers last year in La La Land, so it’s no surprise to see them deliver a brilliant performance, and their chemistry when they’re on screen together seems genuine. Carell is hilarious as Bobby Riggs, perfectly playing out the gambling addict who’s facing a divorce from his wife while trying to keep on a front to the cameras, while Stone’s performance of someone torn between her husband and her lesbian lover, while understanding the world wasn’t as open to homosexuality and a competitive desire to excel throughout the world of tennis was remarkable.

The film is nicely paced throughout, with all the necessary plot points, including Bobby Riggs’ first male-on-female match and Billie Jean King’s push for equality through setting up her own tennis tournament, having plenty of time to develop naturally throughout. It all builds naturally, too, to the final act of their game. Sports films, in my opinion, are better when the sport is intertwined with a story, such as Million Dollar Baby and Rocky, with each main character going through a journey and the sport is a way of helping push that along, and this film captures enough tennis to be a tennis film, but not so much to deter those who aren’t a fan, which is a fine line and they impressively succeed.

There were a few scenes in the film, though, which I didn’t like, and a few moments felt forced to fit in with the story. The first meeting between Billie Jean King and Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin) drags on a little too long as they focus on the looks they give each other; I understand it’s to set up their sudden romance (its suddenness was another thing slightly off with this film, considering everything was given time that felt rushed to get to the point of being in love, rather than falling in love(, but the length of the scene and the farfetchedness of it weren’t to my liking. I also didn’t much care for Larry King’s (Austin Stowell, Stratton) portrayal in the film. It’s known that Larry and Billie Jean remain, to this day, close friends, and split amicably from one another, but his character barely had any personality or emotion, and his swiftness to accept Billie Jean as possibly being gay just disappointed me. Maybe that’s how it played out in real life, and maybe the real Larry King is an emotionless, personality-devoid man, but in the film it seemed off. Billie Jean’s speed in betraying her husband for another woman and Larry’s speed in accepting it all seemed completely off in a film that was so well-paced everywhere else.

A thoroughly entertaining film with a seriousness and comedic side to entertain all. Carell and Stone are brilliant in their performances, each acting characters so wildly different but both smashing it. The fiml is also beautifully paced for the most part, and everything, again for the most part, progresses naturally. A Few off moments but they don’t deter from an enjoyable film.

 

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