Battle Of The Sexes - This Timely Tennis Movie Rocks
Dir Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman
Co-directors Faris & Dayton certainly bring the feel-good to their inter-gender tennis tournament movie, a film that is both an intriguing historical document and a remarkably timely piece. Their leads, Carell and Stone are – appropriately - at the top of their game as, respectively, ageing tennis champ and all-round-proud-to-be male chauvinist Bobby Riggs, and women’s champion Billie Jean King, the woman he challenged to a match, watched by over 90 million people worldwide back in 1973, and dubbed the Battle of the Sexes. From Riggs’ point of view it was an act of show business; for King it was an intense matter of principle.
Carell is very good at being full of bluster and playing it as large as Riggs did himself, but the actor also displays a well of depth here that balances and humanises the role to great effect. Similarly, Stone scratches deep beneath the surface of the feminist tennis pro, catching her at a time in her life when she was just discovering her true sexuality, something brought to life via her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn (an excellent Riseborough.)
The movie is too on the nose at times – the boys in the locker room cuts immediately to the girls in the beauty parlour; Billie Jean’s nascent attraction to Marilyn is pointed up with soft focus lighting and the latter sensually running her fingers through the former’s hair – but for the most part the directors' handle both sides well. And, more importantly, equally - for all his bravado, Riggs is not played as a fool here, for instance.
A top-notch supporting cast, (Shue and Pullman both standout), make the background interesting, but this is a two person star turn for the most part, one that builds to a rewardingly delivered final match, that pumps the heart and the fists in the air both, leaving the movie ultimately triumphant.
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