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There is no doubt that the event on which "Battle of the Sexes" is
based on was a monumental moment in sports and cultural history. The
exhibition tennis match between Bobby Riggs & Billie Jean King was in
part a circus, but also (in large part) a key moment in the taking of
women athletes seriously on the national stage. While this film
eventually arrives at that point, I felt like it took far too long for
it to "get to the point", so to speak.
For a basic plot summary, this film tells the story of the run-up to the Battle of the Sexes match. Riggs (Steve Carell) is a male chauvinist through and through (or at least plays the role of one), while King (Emma Stone) is perhaps the premiere women's tennis player of her era. While King struggles with her confusing sexuality and Riggs falls on hard times with his own wife, this sets the wheels in motion for a match that will be more than just an exhibition, as it seemingly carries with it the weight of the Women's Liberation movement of the 1970s.
Let me be clear about one thing: This isn't a "bad" movie by any stretch. Great acting performances are given, and the final 30 minutes are fully riveting. I completely understood and appreciated the message that was being conveyed.
That being said, the entire film is predicated on the notion that the setup (e.g. the first 70-80 minutes or so) of both lead figures will lead to more dramatic payoff in the end. For me, that didn't happen (in fact, it actually had the opposite effect). I'm not sure that King's sexual leanings needed to be a focal point of the story, and in Riggs' case his relationship with his wife (played by Elisabeth Shue) should have been developed even more. Because neither of these things really get on track, at least the first half of the film felt slow and stodgy to me.
Once the match is set and the buildup/execution of it begins, though, the film really shines. I only have video footage to go on here (I was not alive for the real thing), but Stone is sometimes a dead-ringer for King on the court. Carell's antics as Riggs were also accurate from what I have read/heard.
So, while being a solid film, I cannot give "Battle of the Sexes" more than just above-average marks for the lackluster opening acts. I felt like a different lens was needed (or the execution of the chosen lens needed to be better) in order to make the movie truly riveting in the end instead of "just" somewhat inspirational. It never got to that "next level" for me (aside from the material about the actual match itself).
'BATTLE OF THE SEXES': Five Stars (Out of Five)
A sports biopic based on the highly publicized 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs; with Andrea Riseborough, Austin Stowell, Elisabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Natalie Morales and Alan Cumming in supporting roles. The movie was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the duo also helmed 2006's 'LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE' (also costarring Carell), and it was written by Simon Beaufoy (who also wrote 1997's 'THE FULL MONTY'). The film has received mostly positive reviews from critics, but it's a disappointment at the Box Office so far. I loved it!
In 1973 Billie Jean King, and other professional women tennis players, are sick of getting paid peanuts compared to the male pros. So they start their own women's tournament, and find sponsoring through a cigarette company. Bobby Riggs (Carell) is a retired ex-champion tennis player, who also thinks he should be paid more money for a game than he's currently being offered, and he sees a chance to make a lot of money by challenging Billie Jean King to a match. King knows it's all a publicity stunt for Riggs, so she's reluctant to accept his challenge, but then she feels obligated to defend all of women tennis players, by participating in the match.
The movie is funny, surprisingly emotional, and inspiring too. Both Stone and Carell are fantastic in the lead roles, and I really like how the filmmakers didn't make Bobby Riggs the 'bad guy' of the movie. He was obviously doing it just to get back in the game, and make some money in the process, and he's actually a really sympathetic character in it. So is Stone, as King, and she makes a great badass heroine in the movie too. There are some classic intense dialogue scenes as well, and some intimate emotional ones too. It's an all around really well made, and effective movie. I really liked 'LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE' too, it was my favorite film of 2006, and I think this is another great addition to Dayton and Faris's resume.
The themes presented in this film are still relevant and have merit.
With that said, I want to add that ever since Ibsen wrote "A Doll's
House," it's very rare to get a film (or play for that matter) that is
charged with the theme of gender equality and presents it in a way that
truly resonates. What do I mean? In films that aim to give a message or
present an issues, such as when the writer wants to say something about
the relevant society, more often than not, the writer portrays those
characters in simple categorizations of good and bad. That may work in
a superhero film, but in a piece of realism, where character
development and relationships are key elements to the storytelling,
simple good and bad just won't do. That's my issue with this film. The
screenplay simplifies a few integral characters too much, in favor of
hoisting up its protagonist.
To get this out of the way, the performances are fantastic. Emma Stone and Steve Carell lead the cast well, and the cast doesn't have a weak link in it. In particular, a lot of credit has to be given to Steve Carell. He took a character that was underwritten and perhaps even misrepresented and makes him sympathetic and someone to root for. Andrea Riseborough also delivers a very affecting performance and really gives us some great scene work with Emma Stone.
The directing is swift, well paced and well filmed. Kudos to the cinematographer who really has a wonderful grasp on stillness to promote an essential moment and exerts great uses of soft and hard focus to portray dramatic moments and internalize character feelings. The editing also deserves a shout out for some wonderful pacing and really effectively switching between the grainy, 70s like cinematography and more clear cinematography.
Now, back to the screenplay. What made and still makes "A Doll's House" the ultimate gender-equality script is that every character can be sympathized with. We learn more about the human condition and evils of society, rather than placing blame and anger on individual groups. There are only two men that can be rooted for without hesitation and that's our protagonist's husband and father. Every other guy is completely unlikable and has no arc, and Steve Carell's character can be questioned. Carell's character, who is a vital part of this story, isn't written very well or thoroughly. It's always hard to have two protagonists in a film, especially at a reasonable and well paced time. Carell's character is both an antagonist and protagonist or, at least attempts to be so. Carell's character opposes Emma Stone's. It's a man versus women ordeal and their tennis match is the crisis and climax of the film. But, here's the issue. Carell's character is NOT the antagonist. It's society! So why is Carell's character's standing within the realm of the film so questionable? Why doesn't he get his own arc? Every major character in "A Doll's House" takes a journey. That's what makes us empathize with them and come away disliking their society, and not the products of that society. The same would work with this film. But instead, there is a co- protagonist / antagonist that is not written for people to care about or even empathize with. He gets no arc, no change. He's unaffected. He may as well have been a smaller part.
Why is this an issue? Because Emma Stone's character is a catalyst. She's the driving force and vehicle used within the film to represent the affects of an unjust era and to showcase the positive effects that a change in this society would have. Unfortunately, because Carell's character and the real antagonists (the sexists who sit atop the societal ladder) don't change, because we only see them as unlikable, this story turns into something simple and ultimately un-fulfilling. Stone's character merely wins the battle within the film and we come away knowing that and are momentarily happy. However, that soon goes away, which makes this entertaining dramedy perhaps a little forgettable. Had the writing been more substantial and caring to all its characters, and forgiving to all its characters and condemned society instead, we'd come away with a more profound understanding of where issues lie and are issued from. That's a memorable film. I suppose the cinematic world is still chasing Ibsen.
I give this film 3 out of 5 stars for its entertainment value and performances and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. Reviewed by Willie J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) *** Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Pill Bullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Eric Christian Olsen, Fred Armisen, Jessica McNamee. Stone and Carell shine as 1970s tennis aces Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs who took on the world of tennis (and the world at large) in an iconic tennis match with the closeted lesbian fighting for women's rights and the comical male chauvinistic pig attempting a comeback after a series of setbacks. Filmmaking couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris give a well-balanced effort in allowing their protagonists to be well-rounded largely thanks to a smart screenplay by Simon Beaufoy.
.... And a bit of historical nostalgia and a nod to BJK's contribution to our society's two-steps- forward- two and a half- back progress in attaining equal rights and privileges for... well, everybody. Great acting, as we've come to expect from Carell and Stone, and good story development. They did what I thought was an odd thing with the tennis scenes and I get why they did it but it felt off: they slowed down the action to look like what I see when I'm out on the local courts watching pretty good players duff around. Professional women regularly clock speeds of 120mph on their serve and the power of their returns would blow your mind. The producers made it look like a weekend amateur could manage a volley with either of these pros. Very unrealistic, which is the only reason I subtracted a point!
The directing duo team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris played a nice game of doubles in helming the true-based story "Battle of the Sexes" into cinematic screens. The film is based on the infamous tennis match in the early 70's between sweetheart female lib tennis great Billie Jean King and the male chauvinistic retired Hall-of-Famer Bobby Riggs. But the movie is much more than that, it also stages themes of gender equal rights, estranged marriages, sports management, and scores as a LOVE letter to the early 70's. Emma Stone serves up another ace performance, here as King. Steve Carell was a bit outlandish, but still returned serve with a sound performance. The film also had an advantage of very good supporting performances from Elisabeth Shue as Riggs' wife, Sarah Silverman as King's manager, and Andrea Riseborough as King's lesbian lover. "Battle of the Sexes" matches up quite right, and was not "rigged". Give it a try! **** Good
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Audiences sometimes show a tendency to stay away from movies founded
upon actual people or events, possibly resisting the feeling of
allowing a history lesson to interfere with their entertainment. Even a
terrific movie such as "The Right Stuff" in 1983 suffered at the box
office because many film-goers mistakenly believed the picture to be a
Possibly that's the reason Fox Searchlight Pictures is opening the wonderful new movie "Battle of the Sexes" with such apparent caution, debuting first in major cities and adding additional locations as the picture builds critical and popular momentum.
"Battle of the Sexes" depicts with refreshing accuracy an actual 1973 event, at a time when women in sports were achieving some parity with men. The aging Bobby Riggs, sensing in the times an opportunity for self-promotion and financial gain, publicly challenged in turn two of tennis' reigning female championsfirst Margaret Court and then Billie Jean Kingto matches against him, boasting no woman could compete and prevail in a sporting activity against a man.
It seems like the only person who's trying to turn "Battle of the Sexes" into a history lesson is actor Steve Carell, playing the real-life former tennis champion turned gambler, promoter, and hustler Bobby Riggs. Carell disappears so completely into his characterization of Bobby Riggs that it often seems like there's no Steve Carell left.
That might be a wonderful achievement for Carell as an actor. But in vanishing so completely into his role, Carell risks alienating the audience in much the same way Dustin Hoffman and Jim Carrey did in 1974's "Lenny" and 1999's "Man on the Moon." Both Hoffman and Carrey were consumed so completely by their impersonations that they forgot their primary goal was to entertain the audiencein their characterizations, Lenny Bruce and Andy Kaufman, the real-life comics they portrayed, became deeply unfunny and unsympathetic people.
Faring better in "Battle of the Sexes" is actress Emma Stone as Billie Jean King. With little cosmetic modification beyond her hair style and the addition of King's trademark glasses, Stone easily captures the iconic tennis star's natural dignity and poise. That King is depicted as also coming to terms with her sexuality might be the telescoping of events for dramatic purposes, but the point works well in creating a human dimension in a character who might otherwise have been depicted as too driven, goal-oriented, and bloodless.
Written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by the team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, "Battle of the Sexes" becomes a richly enjoyable chronicle of a time and event modern audiences might find difficult to imagine. Those fearing a civics seminar or a documentary can relaxin this retelling, history takes a backseat to superb entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The hardest thing about making one of these historical biopics is that
everyone already knows exactly what happened. As I watched it with my
mom, she would intermittently remind me that she did, in fact, watch
the match happen when she was about 7 years old, and I'm sure many of
the older folks in the theater remember it much more vividly. I just
want to know, was the match in the film exciting for them at all?
I mean, we all knew what was gonna happen, but I feel like having actually watched the match while it was really happening with no actual idea of who was gonna win is just way more exciting and could never compare to the film. That's why I'm glad the movie wasn't really about the match. It was more about Billie and Bobby. No one walked into this movie wondering who is gonna win the match. They went to see it to find out about the people who were playing it.
One of them, as it turns out, was having a steamy lesbian affair with their hairdresser, and the others' marriage was being torn apart by a gambling addiction. The way the movie showcases the two players' secret lives is done well, but not amazingly, especially with Bobby Riggs. He has approximately 2 scenes with him and his wife, and it doesn't sell their relationship well. It sells it so poorly in fact, that at one point Rigg's wife actually has to remind him why she loves him in the first place. We get hints that she is mad at him with a classic clothes-out-the-window scene, but Elizabeth Shue plays Pricilla so unaffectedly that it really seems like she could care less, even when confessing her love for him. Their whole dynamic feels a bit forced and unsubstantial. Rigg's addiction problem is pretty hilarious to watch though, especially when he whips out a deck of cards at his gambler's anonymous meeting, proclaiming that they're not here because they're gamblers, they're here because they're bad gamblers
Billie Jean and Marilyn's story is much more interesting. After one of the more intimate, beautifully shot and well-acted haircuts I've seen in a long time, Billie starts to feel a certain kinda way towards her hairdresser Marilyn, leading to a steamy romance. Is cheating on your husband a good thing? No. Is discovering your sexual preferences important? Yes. Basically, I'm torn. They have great on screen chemistry and I want to root for them, but cheating is bad, I guess. The movie doesn't really make clear what it wants you to think about Billie's affair, especially when Billie's husband Larry finds out about it (within his first 10 minutes on screen) and still is supportive of her up to the match.
My one big gripe, though, is the fact that the final act of the movie is literally a tennis match. It's a great tennis match don't get me wrong, but if I wanted to watch Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs, I could have looked the match up on Youtube. Now obviously, they could not have just excluded the match from the film, but they fail to add ANY context to it that watching it on Youtube couldn't already provide. All we see is the two of them facing off, with frequent cuts to random characters reacting. It all just feels pointless. A good sports movie should take you behind the scenes to what you can't see with the telecast. I suppose that's an inherent problem with tennis movies. What you see is, for the most part, what you get. Luckily, the move doesn't dwell on the match itself for too long.
After King emerges victorious in the face-off, Alan Cumming's Ted, the gay best friend, delivers a VERY not subtle moral to the story. Something along the lines of "one day we'll be able to be who we want to be and love who we want to love." So is this movie about women? Is it about lesbians? Is it about cheating? I don't know. It's kind of about all of those and also kind of about none of those. It's really just about a person who, with the whole world against her, overcame adversity and proved that she was stronger than anyone thought. So, it's a sports movie. A sports movie that just so happens to involve a lesbian affair. It's kind of a strange film if you think about it. Strange, but still pretty good. I recommend it if you're a fan of tennis, or feminism.
A man and a woman take the stage here in 1972; the first, Billie Jean
King, wins a tennis championship after a blurry match opens the titles;
the second, Bobby Riggs, abandons his own family to gamble, often
through his own tennis rounds. Right away, the men state how women are
less publicly prevalent in tennis as men, meaning they get paid less as
well. Sound familiar?
Battle of the Sexes follows much truer to history than you may think allowing the real Billie Jean to oversee the production process proves the clear effort made to create a strong 21st century female role model. In the end, a fair point comes across: we need to reconsider our gamble in life.
The screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) still has potential for another future masterpiece based on his new display of well-crafted dialogue, as his style here enables each individual to realistically talk around their lies in a clever fashion. You can sense the depth behind these conflicted words, as only whatever matters to everyone's true values gets talked about.
The cast too expresses a strong desire to communicate the message about women empowerment, as most of them put in the best they could give. Oscar winner Emma Stone (Birdman, La La Land) portrays Billie Jean King with confidence to match her preparation for the role. Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Foxcatcher) portrays Billie Jean's ultimate rival with a considerable hardness that proves the comedian's effectiveness at drama. But I most enjoyed one of the smaller roles, Natalie Morales, who plays Billie Jean's stuck-up authoritative agent. Unfortunately, some of the male actors destroyed the perfect performance streak, particularly Austin Stowell, who plays Billie Jean's husband, and Alan Cumming, who plays a stereotypical British assistant thrown in mostly for comic relief. So sadly, not everyone in the cast and crew was truly passionate about its message of gender superiority.
In fact, almost nobody of redeemable quality supports the message's potential positive value. In essence, we don't even meet Billie Jean's husband until the midway point, which ends up feeling extremely joyless since beforehand, we see her sexual attraction toward her lesbian hairdresser come out in a moment of embracing and unzipping in a dark, steamy motel room. At this rate, why would I want to see an unfaithful wife succeed in her desire for fame and fortune?
As for Bobby, he appears to be nothing besides a depiction of the era's public mindsetan unmotivated woman hater. The balance in telling his story all throughout the feature is barely even there, as editor Pamela Martin (The Fighter, Little Miss Sunshine) leaves too long stretches of time away from Bobby's subplot. Even his climactic tennis match against the famed female star lacks any tension on his behalf, since no details are learned about what tennis means to either combatant.
The directorial appearance in particular lacks any artistic quality, from Emma Stone's fake black wig to needing to play "Where's Waldo" on the screen. What do I mean by that? Well, the two directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) unintentionally make you search harder than necessary to find the character talking. Their lack of screen control plays its greatest toll in the end, when the legendary match is viewed from far away into the audience bleachers, consequently ruining the intimacy of tennis. The cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, just won the Oscar last year for his colorful live action daydream, La La Land, but now his Steadicam work takes a massive step back into dull indie movie mode.
In the long run, the extreme preachiness may turn you off the most, since it forcefully tells you to accept its worldview on gender superiority. Similar to various feminist propaganda such as Thelma & Louise, Erin Brockovich, Frozen, Wonder Woman, and countless others, men are painted to look like the predators responsible for women's problems, which in this circumstance devalues heterosexual relationships and diminishes love to impulsive selfishness. Why do so many message films have to force such one-sided, surfacey conclusions? These events may have actually happened, yet the depiction of her affair straight up degrades straight married people. Bobby's marriage appears problematic until his wife decides to change in a submissive fashion, while Billie Jean's sole roadblock in her newfound love is her current husband? Give me a break.
Although my parents and I felt disappointed after walking out of the theater together, it led us into a rather in-depth discussion about our current treatment towards the LGBTQ community. Therefore, we as viewers ought to talk about these crucial ideas more, as listening to one another will help us realize the true blinded difference between the sexes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is about how Billie Jean King cheated on her loving husband
with her lesbian hairdresser.
The filmmaker apparently thinks you're supposed to overlook adultery because... I don't know, LGBTQ something?
Billie Jean's husband may be the only not flawed character, and he's apparently supposed to be... what? the bad guy?
I came to see a movie of women's empowerment and I somehow found myself almost rooting for Bobby Riggs, especially since they made a point to say his chauvinism was just for show. Given that it's an actual historical event I'm glad Billie Jean won, but I mean damn. Seriously, what was the point of making Billie Jean a cheater? The whole movie just felt awkward and forced.
I look forward to a women's empowerment movie that doesn't somehow accidentally make women the villain of the story.
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