Sunday, October 01, 2017

Volley Girl: “Battle of the Sexes” Serves Up Some Fun 70s Nostalgia




“Battle of the Sexes” continues the 70s nostalgia streak that Hollywood has fixated on in recent years. There’s been funny stuff like “American Hustle” and “The Nice Guys” and thrillers like “Argo.” “Battle of the Sexes” is fixated on the famous “battle of the sexes” match between feminist Billie Jean King and chauvinist Bobby Riggs. The film is about so much more than just a tennis match. Its themes and social issues are just as relevant today as they were back then and the film presents us with a fascinating character study of two very different people who were united by their love of one sport. “Battle of the Sexes” is a glorious and authentic recreation of 1970s Americana and features dedicated performances from an outstanding cast.

“Battle of the Sexes” is really three stories in one. So for my money it’s totally worth the price of admission. One story is about a woman, married to a man, who falls in love with another woman and begins to act on her repressed feelings towards the same sex. Another story is about the woman’s liberation movement of the 1970s and the equal rights half the population felt rightfully entitled to. And lastly the film is about a self-proclaimed male chauvinist and compulsive gambler. Maybe huge tennis fans will be disappointed? I mean this isn’t your typical feel-good sports movie. Though there’s a bit of that of course. The film’s script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy juggles the storylines impressively.

The film focuses mostly on tennis star Billie Jean King—played by reigning Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Stone—after becoming the woman’s tennis champion. It draws national attention and when she finds out she-and her fellow female players-won’t be getting as much money as male players, break off into their own division. It attracts the attention of aging tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell doing a sort of a creepy real life Austin Powers thing). The guy is a compulsive gambler and his wife (Elisabeth Shue, geez where’s this lady been?) has had enough. He figures his own way of redemption is with a special exhibition match between him and the world’s best female player. What better way to draw attention than male chauvinist pig vs. woman’s lib feminist?

Ms. King is dealing with her own conflict as she starts to have feelings for her hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). The only thing is that Billie Jean is married to Larry (Andrew Stowell) who  has pretty much functioned as a beard for the world renowned  tennis star. A large chunk of the film focuses on Billie Jean and Marilyn’s relationship with both Stone and Riseborough having tremendous chemistry. Stone goes beyond just impersonation and gives a magician, touching performance. It’s easily her most mature performance to date. Everyone gets a moment or two to shine including a great supporting turn from funny lady Sarah Silverman as plucky manager Gladys Heldman.

“Battle of the Sexes” is assuredly directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton who rose to fame as the helmers of 2006’s breakout hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” They balance humor and drama magnificently. Emma’s story is very serious and Steve’s is more comical. The shift in tones works for the film and is dripping with 70s style, from the costumes and hair to every pan and zoom. The film has the prestige of a “based on true events” docudrama while making important points about where we are in society today. And it’s not afraid to present to us the type of characters who aren’t normally featured in mainstream films. There’s a palatable honesty there that really works. And I dug it.  GRADE: A-


 

1 comment:

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