THE COURT — September has been a good one at the box office so far for Hollywood. With the likes of "It," "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and "The Lego Ninjago Movie" raking in the cash, it would be easy for this weekend's "Battle of the Sexes" to get lost.
The "small" movie boasts a big cast with Academy Award winner Emma Stone and Academy Award nominee Steve Carrell respectively playing real-life tennis players Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs as they played an epic tennis match dubbed The Battle of the Sexes.
The film builds up to the famous match and instead focuses most of its attention on the lives behind the scenes of both Riggs and King, painting a picture most of us were ignorant of until now.
While the film contains some really important messages and strong performances, it also gets lost within itself and seems to be too crowded to give many of the important issues the time and attention they deserve. Here are some reasons "The Battle of the Sexes" is a really good film, and why it missed out on being a really great and important film.
I don't think that will come as a surprise to anyone, but the absolute highlight of this movie is the performance of Emma Stone and that of Steve Carrell.
Both actors prove they are in a league of their own as they embody two historical sports figures and transport you to 1973. Both Stone and Carrell bring actual life to these characters and make us realize there was so much more to them than just what we saw on TV or read in magazines. Carrell humanizes Riggs, and we get a glimpse of the father and husband with a wild personality as opposed to the misogynistic tennis player we knew Riggs to be. We see King as a powerful and dedicated professional who also struggles with who she is, what she wants and exposes a vulnerability she never would have allowed the public to see.
Stone is King and Carrell is Riggs, that's the best way I can describe it. I cannot imagine any other actors taking on these roles and making such an impact. Even with the issues it tackles and the feelings it creates this movie would be nothing without those two.
This highly publicized match was played in 1973, and this movie feels like 1973. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris not only capture the mood of the era with the set pieces, but as well with the camera movements and overall feel. It's hard to explain without seeing it, but the choreography of the camera with quick pull-ins and unsteady close-ups feel like a film from the 70s, but with the crisp HD of the new millennia.
While I think the directors really missed the mark in a few other areas, I have to say the way it was shot is impressive and true to the time.
While the characters of Riggs and King are complex, deep and rich, I'm afraid that's about where the character development stops. King's husband has a layer or two to him, but that progression stops abruptly. Her lover is really just that, a woman she met and apparently fell in love with. Riggs' wife has a hint of dimension, but we don't get enough of her to find out more. His son on the other hand, who we're introduced to, is vague at best. We also have a pair of fashion designers for the women's tennis tour who feel like stereotypical gay characters in a rom-com and not the moral center and spiritual guides they're set up to be.
I assume Kramer was a fairly unsavory character in real life, but in the movie, there is zero depth to him and he comes off like a vaudevillian antagonist and not an actual person. His actions are abhorrent in the film and I'd assume in real life as well, but we're given no context to the man and he's just painted as a monster for the sake of being a monster.
Court, on the other hand, was a tough pill for me to swallow. While Court is a controversial figure today as an open critic of LGBTQ rights, she is also painted as a person with not one redeeming quality in this film and also as a bit of a hack of a tennis player. In reality, she was world number one and won a record 24 titles. While it's completely fine for the filmmakers to dislike and disagree with Court's beliefs, she was also portrayed in a very one-sided and, way that reminded me of an offended grade schooler more than an adult auteur with a powerful platform to tell a real story.
One of my biggest beefs with superhero team-up films is that they jam too many characters in, to the point we don't care about any of them. "The Battle of the Sexes" does this with storylines and agendas.
One of the most powerful things about this story was King's bravery and unwavering fight to create equal rights for women. This storyline is set up beautifully as the movie begins with the formation of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the courage it took to walk away from the security of the pro tournament to make a stand for equal pay and respect. These are powerful and important events in history and what King did for women everywhere, but this quickly gets lost. The majority of the focus then shifts to King's affair with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett. While King's personal journey to better understand who she is was no doubt one of the biggest and most important moments of her life, in the movie it plays out more like a stereotypical romance film that takes too much of the focus away from the central story.
It's not that I'm opposed to romance, but this movie was about issues and social revolutions, and while the film tries to make King's affair with Barnett just that, it actually comes across as more of a fling and not the political and social shift it's meant to be. The film makes a valiant effort at trying to say this moment in time was a huge leap forward for equality for everyone, but instead, it just seems to condone infidelity and forgets about what this tennis match did for women in general.
Overall "The Battle of the Sexes" has some really fantastic moments and some powerful messages, but the way they're played out or glossed over at times strips some of the power away and leaves me wanting more from the movie.
As I mentioned before, for the most part, "The Battle of the Sexes" is a game winner, but it's no Grand Slam Champion.
"The Battle of the Sexes" is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.