Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Movie with Abe: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Released September 29, 2017

Headlines over the past week or so have focused extensively on powerful producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace as numerous accusations of sexual harassment and illicit sexual behavior have become public. Similar stories came to light during Trump’s campaign and continue to do so for far too many other men. While most decry this as completely unacceptable, there was a time when these kinds of accusations would have been almost unheard of, since sexism was so rampant and embroiled in American culture that women simply questioning their place at home or at work was thought of as asking for too much.

“Battle of the Sexes” dramatizes the much-publicized tennis competition between fifty-five-year-old male champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and twenty-nine-year-old female champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), suggested by Riggs as a way of proving that he was the best women’s tennis player in the world. As Riggs struggled to remain relevant after retreating from his sports career, King was leading the fight for equality between men and women in tennis, emphasizing equal pay and respect. Navigating marital problems comes second for both Riggs and King, for whom the sport is everything – a chance for Riggs to show off and for King to hone her craft.

This is the third film from husband-wife directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, after “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Ruby Sparks.” After creating endearing comedies laced with dramatic poignancy, this more serious true story is enhanced considerably by its humorous framing. Much of what is said in the film, particularly by Riggs, is funny mostly because of the outrageous fact that it can be uttered publicly and vocally with no shame. The term “male chauvinist pig” is owned and repeated often by Riggs, who proudly seeks to remind women that their place is either in the kitchen or in the bedroom. King represents a wonderful antagonist for Riggs, showing her commitment to the sport through diligent practice for their match while Riggs goofs off, playing in costumes and with obstacles to show just how little he finds King a threat. To laugh at this might be difficult given the current state of our times, but it’s inspiring to see King fight so boldly and to know how this all plays out.

Stone, fresh off an Oscar win for “La La Land,” has found a fitting follow-up role which allows her to get into King’s skin, delivering an invested and heartfelt performance. Carell eases into portraying Riggs, eagerly recreating his unapologetic sexism and showmanship. The supporting cast is very well assembled, including Sarah Silverman as the women’s tennis manager, Natalie Morales as another player, Andrea Riseborough as a hairdresser with whom King forms an immediate connection, Alan Cumming as a gay fashion designer, Bill Pullman as a powerful advocate against gender equality in tennis, and Elisabeth Shue as Riggs’ wife. The costumes, art direction, editing and general feel of the film all make its 1970s setting engaging, and the script by Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy is full of great one-liners and strong dialogue. This cinematic version of a famous and culturally important tennis match is a great, fun film that feels good to watch too.


No comments: