The King of Queens
Battle of the Sexes is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, and Natalie Morales. It is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The 90th Academy Awards back in March 2018 will be best remembered for its tackling of Time's Up, #MeToo, and the seemingly endless series of sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood. The Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations back in October 2017 kicked this movement against sexual harassment/assault into high gear, so it would make all the sense in the world for a film or two to come out and get caught up in the wildfire that was happening between the rise of the Me Too movement and the deadline for the 2018 Oscar nominations. Really, a film that had any sort of story dealing with a woman or a group of women fighting back against male chauvinism would seem like an absolute shoe-in for the 2018 Oscar nominations, and that is exactly why Battle of the Sexes, which actually came out a month before #MeToo went viral, is as Oscarbait-y as they come.
Which is why it should come as a total shock that not only did the movie not win any Oscars, it didn't even get nominated for any Oscars. So does that mean that the film should be considered something of a failure? To that question, I would honestly say, yes, the movie is a little bit of a failure. Battle of the Sexes bombed at the box office and hardly anything about it is memorable in any way, despite having charismatic leads in Emma Stone and Steve Carell. If the movie was never able to pick up steam after the emergence of #MeToo, then there is clearly something wrong at its core.
The story revolves around the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, at a time when women's tennis was seen as inferior. The film dramatizes the events leading up to the match. Billie Jean and her fellow tennis players begin their own women's tour, where Billie Jean starts an affair with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs struggles with a gambling addiction, threatening his marriage to his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). After getting thrown out of his own house, Riggs has an idea to challenge the top woman player in the world, believing, even at age 55, he can beat any woman in the world.
- The one thing you think would be deserving of praise in Battle of the Sexes are its two lead performers. Unfortunately, Carell is the only one deserving of praise here, successfully portraying a goofy Bobby Riggs that is full of arrogance and looks down upon his female competition. Emma Stone is...eh, I mean, she's not bad. Stone just doesn't do much to convince you that she's playing a professional athlete, because, no offense to her, but she just doesn't have the look of someone who can play a professional athlete. She plays things way too safe here, relying on simply her normal acting charm to get by. Stone's acting charm will work in some roles like in La La Land, but not here. Meanwhile, Carell is a lot more in his comfort zone in his role, and that's a letdown because he's not in the movie anywhere near as much as he should be.
- I don't know why, but Battle of the Sexes insists on being a story about Billie Jean King as much as humanly possible, while sneaking in a few scenes of Bobby Riggs here and there just to make sure you don't forget that this movie is titled Battle of the Sexes and not, 1970s Tennis, as told by Billie Jean King. King dominates so much of the story that Bobby Riggs is basically a supporting character, which is why the match at the end doesn't feel anywhere near as exciting as the movie desperately tries making it out to be, evidenced by a flurry of scenes in which we see commentators talking about the match and all the pre-game hype pumping up the match like it was the Super Bowl. The movie having such a deep love for its female lead is the only way the movie believes it can get across its radically feminist agenda, without a care in the world for exploring what makes its selfish, chauvinist male characters so condescending towards women.
- Probably the worst thing about Battle of the Sexes though is how completely artificial it is. Characters are one-note throughout, falling into the category of strong woman or sexist man. The dialogue is incredibly tacky in how much it's trying to sound feminist, with hardly any of it sounding natural. And worst of all, the movie is straight up boring, giving us little to no "cinematic" tennis (directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris decided to shoot the Battle fo the Sexes as much like an actual tennis match as possible), and going basically nowhere with any of its subplots. The whole movie is constructed to be as message-like as possible, but with hardly any serious care towards working the message into the story-telling and towards making the sport that serves as the backdrop behind the movie's real-life inspiration look fun and exciting (as several sports movies do). It's all meant to be as pro-women as possible, but does so by being as shove-it-down-your-throat as it can be, relying on characters and dialogue that are as plastic and as forced as they come.
Honestly, there is no reason for Battle of the Sexes to be as joyless as it is. Steve Carell is the only bright spot in a movie that should be full of bright spots. The artificial "female empowerment" approach completely detracts from any and all interest to be had in the real-life story of Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs, and nothing about the characters, dialogue, or tennis scenes will have you wanting to come back and watch this movie again. Battle of the Sexes is one of the more recent examples of, "see it once then quickly forget about it" kind of movies, which is a shame because with the rise of #MeToo and Time's Up, this movie should have been absolute dynamite at the box office. But nope, it's just another boring, forgettable biopic. Gosh, did I not want to say all that for this movie.
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