From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Ferris, comes Battle of The Sexes. A true story, Battle of The Sexes is set during the rise of the women’s movement, and depicts the 1973 nationally televised tennis match between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), watched by ninety million people. While the tennis match was gearing up, King was also struggling with her sexual identity, while Riggs wrestled with his gambling demons and dysfunctional marriage. The movie is a very slick, throwback film, with a great look, and all-around good balance of drama and comedy.
What makes Battle of The Sexes work, above all, are the great performances. Emma Stone (La La Land), and Steve Carell (The Big Short), make a good sparring duo, comparing and contrasting each other in terms of their character arcs. Stone is rightfully top-billed as more of the story tends to focus on Billie Jean King, with the film not even getting to the actual announcement of the main tennis match until fifty minutes into it. Wearing glasses, and acting a bit preppy and even boastful, Stone plays King’s down-to-earth personality well. You really feel she’s a woman with complicated feelings and aspirations. In particular, I quite liked it when Billie Jean King has a one-on-one talk with her “friend”, Marilyn (played by Andrea Riseborough), about their "relationship", because those moments seemed to really open her up as a person.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Steve Carell, as Bobby Riggs, the ultimate overly confident, middle aged, alpha-male, and huge sexist who believes women belong in the kitchen, and not on the tennis court. Carell’s performance is overbearing, and it didn't always work for me, but fits the personality of Riggs to a T. Riggs is a scumbag, essentially, except during the moments we see him becoming intimate, like when he talks to his son, his psychiatrist (about his “woman problem”), and his wife (played by Elisabeth Shue), where his hyperactive, “me, me”, performance, in my opinion, worked best. One of the funniest moments in the film involves Riggs, too, when during a montage training sequence, he is seen reenacting Little Bo-Peep with sheep. A good moment in a movie full of them.
Aside from that, we also have Sarah Silver as Gladys Heldman, the founder of the World Tennis Magazine and supporter of King; Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals; Bill Pullman as Jack Kramer, a tennis player, who constantly insults King, because he thinks she’s going to lose; and Alan Cumming as Ted, one of King’s promoters, who seems to be there just for humor and discussion.
The production design and crew of Battle of The Sexes deserves a lot of props. Production Designer, Judy Becker (American Hustle, Brokeback Mountain), really brings the flashy 70’s to life. While Cinematographer, Linus Sandgren (La La Land, American Hustle), shot the movie on real film, using dollies and handheld cameras, giving the movie a grainy, somewhat softer feel, similar to films from that time. It’s good work and very noticeable.
Fitting in with the retro feel of the film is Nicholas Britell’s (Moonlight, The Big Short) musical score, which is delightful, featuring a light, yet determined, piano theme, with an electric bass, represents Billie Jean King, which gets more heroic sounding as the film goes on. While a jazzy, masculine theme, with a condescending piano motif, represents Bobby Riggs. This soundtrack has a lot of songs that fit the time period well, and it’s one of the better scores I’ve heard this year (notably the second film featuring Elton John’s Rocket Man, following Kingsman: The Golden Circle).
The Battle of The Sexes is a very enjoyable film with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Ferris’ direction being very solid, and bringing a lot of life to the film. This movie has an entertaining vibe, and as far as tennis films go, it was a nice surprise. A definite must watch, on the big or small screen.
Now playing in at The Nugget, Monday thru Thursday, 4:15, and 6:45 PM.