Hello Everyone, Janet W. here…
The year was 1972; Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) had just won the US Open. Thrust into the mainstream limelight, emerged into the Women’s Lib movement, and treated as the lesser sex by the world, King breaks free from the bonds of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association. The USNLTA paid the female players considerably less than the male players for illogical reasons like men are the big ticket sellers; men need the money for their families, etc. With her trusted friend and manager, Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), along with her and other female tennis players the face of tennis was forever changed.
Shot on 35mm film (for that true 70s mise en scène), Battle of the Sexes sends the audience into a time warp from the start with the old Fox Searchlight image. From there the set design, costumes, soundtrack/score, and use of mixed media images and sound, keep this world alive and kicking from start to finish. The use of interviews and news broadcasts fit well into the flow of the film. I particularly enjoyed during the club’s establishing shot, the prism filter used to shoot across the room in transition from the previous sequence was ingenious; and made me wish I had on a lamé halter-top. Kudos to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for their vision and execution! Consistency is key and they turned it.
For nearly a decade, I have enjoyed Stone’s performances. Her quirky and strong sense of self has made it easy to relate to her regardless of the role. Beginning with The House Bunny and transformation in Zombieland, Stone personified the socially awkward or surprisingly witty young adult that we all started out as and hopefully became. It wasn’t until The Help and now in Battle of the Sexes that Stone’s dramatic abilities really came into focus. She is just fun to watch. I look forward to her new developments. I haven’t seen La La Land (I know, shame on me, I’ll get to it), but she must have shown to earn the prestigious Oscar. Along similar lines, I have enjoyed a few of Carell’s performances. A man that gives new meaning to “suffering for your craft.” I first witnessed the comedic aptitude of Carell in Bruce Almighty. It was a small start, but was followed by exemplary comedies like the Anchorman series, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the sequel Evan Almighty, Despicable Me series, etc. which established Carell as a player.
And like Stone, one film made me look at him in a whole new light, Foxcatcher. The depth Carell brought to this eccentric and psychotic killer in John du Pont was a game changer and I have much respect for his skill as a result. I really enjoyed the performances, especially Alan Cumming (as Cuthbert ‘Ted’ Tinling); he steals the scene in practically every film I see him in. “My name is Kurt Wagner, but in the Munich circus I was the Nightcrawler.” Priceless! Sarah Silverman rocked her role as well. My man, Bill Pullman really made me despise him as Jack Kramer. As much I would have rallied behind him in Independence Day (only the first one, second sucked), my foot wanted to do something else behind him as Kramer. Excellent casting!
Overall, I enjoyed Battle of the Sexes, I was let down by the flagrant bait and switch tactic in the film’s promotion. As a rule, I do not do much research on a film prior to seeing it, as I don’t want the propaganda to color my opinion of the film. However, I expected Battle of the Sexes to showcase the career of Billie Jean King and the fight for women’s hard work and skill to matter in the eyes of the male populace. What I got was a few dashes of King the tennis player and large headline journey into her emergence as a lesbian. Heads up, you will see girl on girl in the bedroom. The film completely shifts gears from the Battle of the Sexes to the battle of sex (which was deceptively and skillfully kept from the trailers as I discovered while writing this review).
Whatever your beliefs about sexual orientation, this deviation from what should have been the main theme, namely King vs. Riggs: the story of two legendary tennis players, disrupts the powerful message that the match posited, one sex is not better than the other. I mean this match went far beyond the court. Male-Female relations in work, school, sports, etc. metamorphosed into the, albeit still limiting at times, state we live in now. By itself, the contention between the sexes is enough for a story’s focal point. Solid lines like, “Is your father better than your mother because he’s a man?” provided flashes in a pan kind of effort to partially keep the message in front of the viewers, but they were too far and between to really make a real impact. I close with a real photo of the two players that changed the world of tennis forever. Hats off to you, Billie Jean!
WELL DONE…BAIT AND SWITCH!
Janet L. White
Your friendly straightforward neighborhood critic