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In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women's movement, the 1973 tennis match between women's world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men's-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms ...Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Not the great tennis breakthrough movie it might have been.
Whilst Emma Stone puts down her marker for a possible third Oscar nomination the film as a whole left me slightly cold. But then, when did you last see a GREAT tennis movie. That's right. You didn't.
But this potentially offered more because it appeared multi layered and could have been more nuanced than it is.
It tackles two themes simultaneously. First, Billie Jean King's lesbian relationship with her hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) that eventually ended in controversy as she was publicly outed by her lover when they split in 1981. Throughout King remained married to her first love Larry (played sympathetically but a little limply by Austin Stowell). This is handled very tastefully and, for me, was the better part of the whole.
Second, and the source of the title, the movie explores sexism in the women's tennis game that led to her breaking away from the WTA and its sexist president, Jack Kramer (in an unconvincing performance by Bill Pullman), and taking on a challenge billed as THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES with 55 year old ex tennis champion and self proclaimed Male Chauvinist, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell).
I disliked Carell's part greatly, not because he didn't perform it well but that it is written to make him out to be a complete idiot (which no doubt he was). He becomes a character of himself quickly and I neither liked nor disliked him (I was annoyed by him though). It all makes for a strange mix of comedy, politics, sexuality and revolt.
And the revolt was all too gentlemanly for me - despite the subject matter and the ire it must have stirred nobody really ever loses the plot and so the film lacks edge and dramatic tension.
What's more, it's 30 minutes too long and the overwrought soundtrack (Nicholas Britell - it really is a shocker) is over-pervasive and just plain annoying.
Emma Stone rarely puts a foot wrong in my view and at times you really do think BJK is on screen. That part, and the general 70's styling of the movie, is excellent but it's ponderously directed and although the final shoot out between BJK and Riggs has an element of tension we all know the outcome and Britell's pomp and circumstance was gradually doing my nut in.
Just because you loved Little Miss Sunshine it does not follow that you will love this.
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