Quick Hit: Wonderfully acted, but a bit overlong, this film will be a crowd pleaser despite its heavy symbolism in today’s world.
Stop me if you’ve seen heard this before: A woman goes up against a chauvinistic pig who loves a media circus surrounding him. He turns the entire event into a spectacle, daring people to hate him and deliberating prodding people around him into conflict. No, I’m not talking about the 2016 election – I’m talking about the tennis event between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the event which is the topic in today’s film – Battle of the Sexes.
It’s easy to see the parallels that have been drawn in this film – they’re made abundantly clear the more we move through the film. Without some truly impressive performances by Emma Stone, Steve Carrell and their supporting cast it would have been easy to dismiss this as a bunch of political noise. Instead, what you get is a beautifully rendered picture of two people who were struggling with what it meant to really be themselves.
Emma Stone does an Oscar-worthy job sinking into the character of Billie Jean. Shot in lots of intense close-up shots, particularly in the scenes with Marilyn (played by Andrea Riseborough), Stone’s emotions play across her face before being masked, only to slowly be let out again. It’s that realization and recognition of her true self that plays out on her face over and over throughout the film. Some of her best scenes may be the ones with the true villain of the film – Bill Pullman, full of his own schmarm and sexism playing Jack Kramer.
To Carrell’s credit, he matches this fairly well. At times he plays the character that most would recognize him (both him and Riggs) – a media clown who is full of energy and wants the spotlight. But I give the screenwriter Simon Beaufoy real credit here – he actually paints Riggs with a full canvas instead of just making him one color. There are some beautiful scenes that allow supporting actress Elizabeth Shue to shine as Rigg’s wife, and Carrell nails the emotional response to being an unapologetic addict.
The soundtrack is also worth listening to. Punctuated at times with pop songs of the era (Elton John’s Rocketman makes an uplifting scene even more so), the highlights are the soft tonal choices used during Marilyn and Billie Jean’s first and last scenes together. This, coupled with the two actress’s performances, truly highlight the range of emotions that are playing out here, in a love that was forbidden that shouldn’t be.
Battle plays out a bit too long, and the emotional stakes in the final titular game really don’t seem to be there. First, the ending is wildly known in the world. But when you consider the fact that the ending is also so extremely telegraphed throughout, there’s really nothing to excite you in the final match. I will hand it to the filmmakers for the historical accuracy of different points, and for ending on an emotional high note with Alan Cummings (who is always excellent and I never quite can remember his name).
This film will probably not contend for all the Oscars it was hoping for, but I would expect Stone to land a possible nomination for it. I’m giving Battle of the Sexes a “B+”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"