BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrew Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/13/17
Opens: September 29, 2017
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s movie “Battle of the Sexes” has been called a crowd-pleaser everywhere, because it’s the kind of movie with a finale that would viewers to their feet. In another words, it’s not a downer, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A crowd-pleaser tends to move at a rapid pace and has great appeal to popular, i.e. massive, tastes, and the people in the film that you’re rooting for will, despite initial setbacks, come out as winners. Well, then, whether “Battle of the Sexes” is such a movie depends on whom you support. Using tennis as a metaphor for the conflict between feminism and male chauvinism, wouldn’t those who want the male player to win feel disappointed at the conclusion?
Example: We all know by now that Billy Jean King defeated her challenger, Bobby Riggs, in a match held not at Forest Hills, which traditionally gets an audience elite enough to applaud politely rather than yell as though at Churchill Downs. This is said to be a victory for feminism and against show-offs such as Riggs and his many supporters. But it is really a great victory? Riggs was 55 years old and King was 29. The big surprise is that previous to the 1973 match, Bobby Riggs defeated the woman who was the number one world champion, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee). Doesn’t this in itself attest to the athletic superiority of men, given the age difference here?
In the movie directed by the duo who gave us “Little Mary Sunshine”—featuring women who want to get their young daughters into a beauty competition—Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is the kind of hustler and self-described male chauvinist pig who want to prove that since women cannot beat men in athletics, the sport of tennis is justified in paying male players eight times more than women. This concept is repudiated by Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) and publicized by her business partner Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), the latter invading a male club to give a piece of her mind to Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), a former tennis champ now a big shot in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.
There’s more involved than most of us had seen in 1973 in that Billie Jean, married to hunky Larry King (Austin Stowell), is a closet lesbian who during the course of this film begins an affair with a hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). During the concluding moments of the movie, for those who did not yet absorb the point, she hugs the league’s fashion designer, Ted (Alan Cumming), who notes that we’ll all be better off if we can be our true selves, undaunted by public censure of Neanderthals.
Steve Carell is in his métier as loudmouth who thinks that tennis has the same USA-USA-USA rah-rah-ism as so-called professional wrestling and college football. This is Emma Stone’s movie, though. She comes across as a woman ahead of her time, at first by refusing to accept the challenge of her male counterpart, but then realizing that womankind would advance the cause by taking him on.
So…therein lies the crowd pleaser, presumably cheered unanimously by women (but not apparently by the hotties who wear costumes touting their male hero, but again: if women are the equals of men in athletics, could Ms. King defeat a man her own age? Have the female winners of the annual New York marathon ever equaled the time clocked in by the male victors? And why do we have separate divisions for women’s basketball rather than allow them to compete for places with the men in the pro leagues?
These are but intellectual arguments that do nothing to downgrade the fun of “Battle of the Sexes,” pitting two A-list actors into a delightful grudge match. The movie, to coin a term in tennis scoring, is “Love Love.”
Rated PG-13. 121 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+