Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Movie Review: "Battle of the Sexes" (2017)

Director: Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

The story of Billie Jean King and her legendary tennis match against Bobby Riggs.

One may think the majority of the issues being faced in 1973 would have been resolved by now, 44 years later. One may think a film like "Battle of the Sexes" would be a simple historical dramatization and not a piece of cinema pertinent in today's politics as they stand. Though things have gotten better since the 70's, it is obvious we have a long way to go. "Battle of the Sexes" is a biopic about professional tennis player Billie Jean King, played by Emma Stone, and her life leading up to her famous match against equally great tennis champion/professional loudmouth Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell. BigJ knew the outcome of this match before we stepped foot into the theater, and though it sounds silly, I did not. I had an inclination about the outcome because a movie about this event wouldn't exist if Riggs had beaten King. It doesn't really matter either way since we both enjoyed this film. That may be because the story goes beyond a simple high-stakes tennis match. It also shows the turmoil in the personal lives of both King and Riggs leading up to their battle on the court. The main focus, however, is on King and her blossoming relationship with a hairdresser named Marilyn Barnett, played by Andrea Riseborough, despite the fact King was already married to a man named Larry King (no, not that Larry King), played by Austin Stowell. Riggs has problems with gambling and a failing marriage to deal with on his own, so when their problems are added to the sports conflict, it makes for a solid, tumultuous, entertaining drama.

Some have called this film overly political, that the fantasy politics going on within the confines of the film are not accurate. Some say the story is exaggerated to match the current times to create a more identifiable final product. Others have criticized it for not having enough bite, that it doesn't feel damning enough to the system of inequality we once faced and still face as a nation. For us, we don't believe the goal is to do either of these things. Instead, we believe "Battle of the Sexes" wants to show how things were and let the audience draw its own conclusions.

Bobby Riggs is charismatic, garish, loud, pompous, and likable despite spewing misogynistic comments to hype his tennis bout with Billie Jean. We understand that, like a prizefighter or a professional wrestler, he is simply a hype-man promoting an angle that will sell well. Thus the catchy and aptly timed name "Battle of the Sexes." It's really the background characters who are the true villains of this true-life story, and not even overtly. People like Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman, who thinks men are the draw over women because they are more competitive. These are the people who don't even fully realize how terrible the stuff they are saying is and how demeaning it is to women. The most depressing part of it is we still hear some of the same rhetoric spewed today.

Beyond the social implications, the acting is fantastic from both Emma Stone and Steve Carell. When we watched the film, we didn't see Stone doing a Billie Jean King impression or Carell doing a Bobby Riggs impression. We truly saw King and Riggs on screen. These actors are some of the best Hollywood has to offer right now and their performances are both excellent. We also enjoyed Sarah Silverman's performance as Gladys Heldman, the promoter/manager of their newly formed women's tennis league. This league was instrumental in creating comparable pay for women players. It proved women's tennis could sell just as many tickets as men's tennis when given a proper chance. We were drawn in by the story and the struggle the female tennis players faced fighting for their fair share. We see the results of that struggle today as some of the most famous tennis players in the world are women. In fact, when put on the spot about it during our podcast, we could name more women tennis players than men.

"Battle of the Sexes" is not played up for politics. This really happened. Life really used to be like this. These women existed and fought for their place in the world, for a little bit of what men have. Just because you disagree with the politics or the actions of the players doesn't make it any less true. The drama is great, the romantic angle is captivating, the acting is superb, it is surprisingly funny, and the film as a whole is a real crowd-pleaser. The final tennis showdown still manages to be exciting, too, even if you know the outcome.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~85%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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