[Film Review] Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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Title: Battle of the Sexes
Year: 2017
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Directors: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Music: Nicholas Britell
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
Cast:
Emma Stone
Steve Carell
Andrea Riseborough
Austin Stowell
Sarah Silverman
Bill Pullman
Alan Cumming
Elisabeth Shue
Lewis Pullman
Jessica McNamee
Natalie Morales
Eric Christian Olsen
Fred Armisen
Mickey Sumner
Wallace Langham
Martha MacIsaac
Bridey Elliott
Jamey Sheridan
Mark Harelik
Tom Kenny
Matt Malloy
Chris Parnell
Mike Vogel
Rating: 7.2/10

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A retro-flair imbued period drama depicting the ballyhoo of the 1973 titular tennis throw-down between a 29-year-old Billie Jean King (Stone) and a 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Carell), a game, impinges on the former as a match she doesn’t have the luxury to lose because her gender equality campaign for female tennis players, to a broader extent, women’s liberation movement, is hanging by a thread, while for the latter, who makes no bones about accepting the epithet “male chauvinistic pig”, it is merely another gamble to cash in on the current furor, a canny ploy only if had betted on the right winner, and invites sideswipe of the country’s capitalistic complexion.

Wife-and-husband director duo Faris-Dayton belatedly parlayed their fortune from music video manufacturers to the feature filmmaking in 2006 with the underdog indie charmer LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, BATTLE OF THE SEXES is their third film, a meticulously crafted commodity briskly capturing its milieu’s zeitgeist with an arousing real story at its disposal, there is no question about who is the winner of the battle, so Faris-Dayton dutifully delves into the two protagonists’ personal affairs to find more relevant fodder to enrich the picture.

From Billie Jean’s aspect, she has been a longtime LGBT activist, thus the script (penned by Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy) plays up her sexual awakening concurrent with the impending game, her budding romance with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough) intersects with guilt, thrill and perplexity attendant with this incipient discovery. Admittedly, Emma Stone gives another creditable performance which requires as much brawn as brain, but what one feels inarticulate is the designation of Marilyn, curtailed by the real-life aftermath (their affair didn’t end up on friendly terms years later), the film puts her in a very waffling position due to the suspect nature of her import in Billy Jean’s life, she is neither the right helpmate, nor a passing flame to quench the loins only, Marilyn’s role is too politically correct to be befouled but also cannot erect herself steadfastly along with Billy Jean’s role model then-husband Larry King (a swell and blond Stowell), who is given another artistic license here (the real Larry claimed he had never suspected Billy Jean’s lesbianism before Marilyn’s palimony lawsuit was made public in 1981), therefore, the final impression is somewhat blithe and bland.

For a clown-like Bobby, it is his compulsive gambling habit becomes his bane, Steve Carrell is completely in his element in lampooning Bobby’s larger-than-life schticks (a distasteful personage is too feasible by half to find its analogy in USA’s current state of head), and in those quieter moments, Carrell also veritably registers an air of disconsolation, especially in his final appearance in the changing room after being vanquished, that shows more ambiguity in his public/personal dichotomy, is he a real sexist or just pretends to be one? One might lean towards the latter.

Casting Alan Cumming as a mentor-like costume designer in vouchsafing Billie Jean’s rite of self-acknowledge of her sexuality, and at the same time, re-enacting veristic snippets of the women-empowering final tennis combat, BATTLE OF THE SEXES contends for fanfare from both queer and female demography, it aims high, but the adage is, you cannot have your cake and eat it too, one arrow and two bull’s eyes, the rest is common sense.

referential points: Faris-Dayton’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006, 8.7/10); Theodore Melfi’s HIDDEN FIGURES (2016, 7.9/10).

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