Battle of the Sexes

Grade: 4/5

When glancing at the riveting trailer of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris “Battle of the Sexes,” you begin to feel the uplifting reminder of the growth of female representation in today's world. At the same time, you start predicting a kind of film that presents that resonating movement through a heartfelt comradery of female tennis players battling against the male bravadoes of the executive powers standing against them. That prediction reigns partially true though, as Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay provides authentic balance to the athletes at odds without giving a sense of togetherness on a side that is meant to stand for equality. The narrative, if you're unaware, is centered around the true story of the infamous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that was built as a match to showcase which gender maintains athletic superiority in the sport of tennis. The focus is placed on that of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and her battles with that of her sexuality, obsessions, and the immense pressure put upon her to represent that of all women at all times. It’s an entertainingly heartfelt flick that showcases just how far we’ve come while reminding us how far we have to go. 

The co-directors responsible for the heartwarmingly enchanting “Little Miss Sunshine” have returned to dissect that of a different topic while maintaining that snippet of charisma ever so present within that of their most renowned film. Steve Carell returns to work with the partnering filmmakers to depict that of the hall of fame tennis player known as Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). A man that after hanging up his racket struggled with that of coping with his problematic gambling problems. Many consider him to be a hustler, but the problem that arrived with that persona was his inability to provide for his family as well as his failures to present himself as a role model to his son. He’s presented in a light that the trailer thankfully forgot to mention to allow for Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to feel approachable and relatable. He doesn’t hate women; he’s merely attempting to garner the eyes of the world so that he can finally earn a solid paycheck in the right manner. It’s a character arch that is realized through that of a charismatically amusing performance that plays off of what I'm inferring to be a dose of improvisation from the talented Steve Carell that continues to place his name with the men that escaped the limits of the comedy genre like that of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. On the opposite side of the spectrum is that of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). A young woman who is taking the world of tennis by storm with her overwhelming charisma and beautiful charm. She garners the attention of President Nixon at one point as she receives a congratulatory phone call from him after her victory at the national women’s tennis tournament. After she learns that of the news that the prize money for the upcoming tournament differs by that of an eighth, she then decides to rebel against this misogynist business model by creating her very own tennis league that brings in many renowned women players that are well deserving of equal pay. From then on we learn of her hardships with that of her almost unhealthy obsession with success in the realm of tennis as well as that of the resonating discovery of her sexuality. It’s a role garnered for Emma Stone that allows her to provide the quirks and mannerisms she’s known for that, while entertaining, fails to add any levity to her range as an actress. She’s remarkably talented and well deserving of her Academy Award win from last year, but I would prefer to see her challenge herself just a bit more to achieve something that her recurring counterpart Ryan Gosling has accomplished over the last few years to allow for everyone to recognize his impressive abilities as an actor. A few other performances that captured my attention were that of Bill Pullman in his depiction of the authentically offensive Jack Kramer that never shies away from displaying his baffling chauvinist ideas. Pullman delivers a performance that tugs on the emotions of upsetting frustration as he should when depicting a man that berated a woman’s loss to a man in Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) first match with the opposing sex. Another stand out that caught my eye was that of Sarah Silverman and Andrea Riseborough who both do nothing short but showcase their screen presence. Whether it’s Silverman’s lively sport’s agent charm that captures the sleaziness and persuasive aspects in a way that is undoubtedly compelling or Riseborough’s performance that provides a sense of erotic euphoria that feels like a dream at times. It's as if we are incarnating Billie’s (Emma Stone) subconscious as we feel the hypnotic discovery of this one of a kind girl. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is a bit over reliant on the beauty of sunlight. He’s attempting to capture that uplifting essence of the 1970’s by displaying a bright color pallet that allows for sunlight to act as the metaphorical display of this heartwarming narrative. The camera movement is nothing showy as the focus goes into Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay and the performances of its cast that can bring these characters to life in the best of ways. However, the bright sunshine rays are not bright enough to blind me from the lack of emotional punch and almost complete absence of comradery displayed by this group of woman. The overall arch’s of our characters are examined but never focused upon enough to pull out a final punch that sent me over the edge into the deep figurative end of emotional depth. I was invested in the characters enough, but the severity of their actions are never allowed to breathe in a realm of somberness. Whether it’s Riggs (Steve Carell) gambling or that of King’s (Emma Stone) sexual discovery enveloping her marriage in which both of these subplots are never allowed enough time to breathe as the focus is continuously transitioned back to entertaining upliftment. I enjoyed the bantering captured in these historic moments, but the ending would have felt far more effective if the character's failures were more focused upon. The absence of comradery is an example of a lack of focus upon our fellow characters. Though “Battle of the Sexes” is a biographical glance at a historically significant woman, the narrative should provide some glimpse of the women that stood next to her in her battle that she could not accomplish without their overwhelming support. These two flaws are met with solid direction and superb cinematography that focuses on presenting compelling performances that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris continue to pluck out of their talented ensemble casts. 

“Battle of the Sexes” opens with that of focus on a man while ending with that of the focus on a woman. It’s a small detail I think few will notice due to the overwhelming amount of detail placed on one side as compared to the brief excretions of charisma shown on the other. The overall spectrum of the narrative carries itself remarkably, despite that of the failure of severity placed in that of Billie Jean King’s (Emma Stone) emotional depth. We see her smile and grow, but the tears are rarely shed by both her and the audience. The comradery of the woman is never focused on enough to reach the final punch of overwhelming joy that lifts the coldest hearts to that of a form of tear shedding happiness. “Battle of the Sexes” captures the viewer through its compelling performances, while never being able to tug out a few tears to summarize that of the genuine emotion of women overcoming the chauvinism of the men in control of their careers. The triumph is met with joy that resonates but never becomes much more than just that as “Battle of the Sexes” can showcase how far we’ve come as a country with that of the female role in society and sports. Right before the end credits roll, Simon Beaufoy reminds us just how far we have to go with an overjoyed Cuthbert 'Ted’ Tinling (Alan Cumming) talking to a victorious Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). He leans in to hug her in which at he softly reminds her how he hopes that one day free loving men and women will earn the same respect that she did on that day. We saw that day occur with the historic legalization of gay marriage that was long overdue, and hopefully, we can continue to overcome the boundaries placed on those who are kept down due to others irrational perception of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion. “Battle of the Sexes” is uplifting while hauntingly emphasizing the long road that lies ahead. A path that we can travel together by following the role models like Billie Jean King. A hero to that of feminism in both sports and life.